Archive | November 2010

VP Profile #6: Miranda Suri

Miranda Suri's very first novel admitted her into Viable Paradise. No pressure, Miranda, but we expect big, big things.

Here's Miranda's first published story over at Electric Spec

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Tamago: My understanding is that the novel you submitted for Viable Paradise was the first novel you ever wrote. How did you come to be motivated to write that novel?

Miranda: I started the novel in 2004 while working on my dissertation in Mesoamerica archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. I need a non-academic outlet to keep myself from going crazy. I’d always loved speculative fiction, especially big epic fantasy novels, and my Dad was always encouraging me to write one, so I did. At the time, of course, I knew nothing about writing. I only knew what I liked as a reader. George R.R. Martin’s Songs of Ice and Fire had a big impact on me, so I decided to emulate him and create a vast sprawling novel with tons of characters. It never crossed my mind I didn’t have the skill to pull something like that off! It took nearly five years to finish writing and revising it, and, of course, it ended up being 700 pages long, had no real ending, and followed about ten too many POV characters. At VP, Laura Mixon called it a “shiny mess,” and she was right. There were some great things about it, actually – especially the characters and cultures that I’d created – but the structure was a disaster.

Tamago: I know that you have published academically, and you work in a college environment. Do you use any of the knowledge you gain from teaching and researching in your field in your writing?

Miranda: I’ve published a number of articles on my archaeological research in Honduras, as well as co-edited a book on Feminist Anthropology, and I definitely draw a lot on my academic background as an anthropologist in my fiction writing. I think it especially influences my world-building. The novel I’m currently revising, titled “A Blood Red Sun” revolves around a culture based on the ancient Aztec. Another project, which I’ve just begun, focuses on an adjunct college professor who inadvertently sends some of her students back in time to the Ice Age Americas. For the former project I drew a lot on my first-hand archaeological research of Pre-Columbian cultures, for the latter I’m incorporating my experiences working in a college environment.

Tamago: Why did you decide to become an author?

Miranda: For most of my adult life I’ve focused on pursuing a career in academia. I finished my PhD and immediately went on the market looking for a tenure-track position. Unfortunately, jobs are thin on the ground in the field of archaeology (only a handful of positions open each year) and most openings didn’t happen to be in places that meshed with my husband’s career. I started teaching part-time while still trying to do fieldwork and publish—all with very little institutional or financial support. It wasn’t making me happy. I’d been working on my first novel for a long time and I thought, “Hey, maybe I can pursue writing as a career instead of a hobby.” So, last year I applied to Viable Paradise and I got accepted. Since then—and thanks to the support of my amazing husband, friends and family, and my fellow writers--I’ve been working seriously on learning the craft of writing. Now I teach part-time for the pleasure of teaching and I focus on writing as a career goal…and I’m 110% happier.

Tamago: Tell us about what you're working on now.

Miranda: I’m currently revising my second novel, “A Blood Red Sun.” It’s a fantasy novel about an ambitious young woman who gets tangled up in a war between the gods. There’s plenty of war, blood sacrifice, romance, and intrigue. The novel is actually based on one of the characters from the first novel I wrote. Meanwhile, I’m drafting my third novel, tentatively titled “Absent.” It follows the adventures of an archaeology professor who, after being cursed by an envious colleague, starts accidentally sending her students back in time during her lectures. She becomes the focus of a Missing Persons investigation, and when she realizes what’s happening, decides to attempt a rescue. This takes her, the Detective running the case, and the colleague who cursed her to the Ice Ages, as well as to Sir Leonard Woolley’s dig at the Sumerian site of Ur in the 1920’s.

Tamago: Which authors influence your work?

Miranda: As I mentioned, one of my earliest influences was George R.R. Martin. The first three books in his Songs of Ice and Fire series completely blew me away. Instead of a bunch of stiff fantasy archetypes, he’d created characters who felt like real people – warts and all. The shot of realism that he infuses in his work is inspiring. I’ve also been influenced by Joe Abercrombie. His First Law trilogy took Martin’s emphasis on realism to an almost unrealistically gritty extreme. He strips down characters to their basest instincts and exposes the flaws behind the notion of a ‘hero.’ Sometimes, though, his writing is a little *too* bleak! I’m considering writing an Urban Fantasy for my fourth novel, and writers like Stacia Kane and Illona Andrews have both been inspirations.

Tamago: Where do you see yourself in 10 years as an author?

Miranda: That’s really hard to say. I hope I’ll be establishing myself as a published novelist, but I’m realistic about how difficult that goal will be to achieve. All I can do is keep writing, revising, practicing, and hoping.

Tamago: Many people who have careers dream of being an author, but they might be reluctant to start. What advice could you give them, based on your experience?

Miranda: If you think you’d like to be an author, you to stop dreaming just do it. Sit down and write. If you find you don’t want to put in the work, or you don’t like it as much as you thought you would, then ‘oh well,’ you gave it a try. If you find you DO like it, then I’d suggest getting yourself into a writers’ workshop as soon as possible—there’s lots of good ones out there, including VP, Clarion, Odyssey, and Taos Toolbox, among others. Getting your writing to a level where you’ll be accepted at a workshop may be a lot of work in itself. Enlist help. Contrary to popular opinion, writing isn’t something you can become good at on your own. As with any other profession, you need to learn a particular set of skills. You must practice, every day if possible, and you’ll need feedback from people who know what they’re talking about. Joining a local or online writing group can be a good start—you’ll find there’s a big difference feedback from people who like to read vs. people who actually write.

Tamago: Do you have themes you find you return to in the stories you write?

Miranda: Well, I wouldn’t have thought it when I first started writing, but I’m a little bit bloody-minded. I really like to have action, fighting, and war in my stories and I strive to make them as realistic as possible. I’ve have an underlying conflict in my beliefs about human nature: on the one hand I strongly believe that people are inherently selfish, short-sighted, and cruel; on the other hand, I think people can generous, strive to live up to noble ideals, and be self-sacrificing—especially for the people we love, and sometimes even for the greater good. So, I think that balance of concerns often emerges in my writing.

Tamago: What is your dream writing project?

Miranda: In the short term, I’m eying a series of related but stand-alone Urban Fantasy novels about a paranormal archaeologist. In the long term, I would love to someday accrue the skill and talent to write a huge, sprawling epic fantasy – just like I dreamed of when I first sat down to write my original novel.

Tamago: What do you think is the most valuable thing you gained from attending Viable Paradise and other writing workshops?

Miranda: It would be hard to overstate the value of Viable Paradise. By far the most valuable and lasting impact of attending VP was discovering a network of fellow writers. A lot of people describe this as finding your “tribe,” and I guess this description is as good as any. Before VP I didn’t know any other writers. Now I have many friends who are writers, and through them I’ve met others. We give each other support and encouragement, feedback and critiques, information on markets, agents, and publishers, and much more. The critiques and lectures at VP also helped me a lot with professionalization. I learned about the skills a writer needs to develop, as well as how to practice them. Finally, attending VP gave me a small measure of validation: yes, with work and sweat and maybe a little blood, I can do this.

The Fox Woman and The Magicians

They say the books we read teach us about what we want to write. Recently, that seems to be the case.

I read The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson. I admit to going into the book with low expectations. I know a bit about Japan and Japanese folk lore, and I've seen a lot of Westerners abuse that material and use it superficially.

Johnson turned out to be the real deal. In order to write this book, she did a large amount of research regarding folklore and the time period in which she sets the book. She traveled to the country. She (gasp!) talked to Japanese people.

The book she wrote was an exquisite retelling of the fox woman legend, which understood the mechanics of it at its depths. The characters were treated in a multi-faceted as a reader could want, and the ending was not tidy, but was satisfying to me.

I thought to myself, yeah, that's the kind of book I'd like to write. There might be a reason why there's a gap of three years between The Fox Woman and Fudoki, but such beautiful books are worth the wait.

Right now, I'm in the middle of Lev Grossman's The Magicians.. I approached it with great anticipation. I've never read such a cynical piece of poo.

A brilliantly executed, well-written piece of poo, but poo nonetheless.

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Links Today. Substance Tomorrow

Well. It was *that* kind of day at work. A good day, in which much was accomplished. I am left with little brain, and so, thanks to the magic of technology, I let others entertain you!

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So You Want to Write a Novel. You've probably seen this, but if you haven't, get on over there!

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Related to the video, Miranda Suri double dog dares you, so I gotta link to that. I mean what I say...as soon as I am done with the novella, I will become the outlining queen. Part of my problem is I write myself into alleys, and I waste a lot of time writing myself out.

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One of my favorite stories from last year is being released in Brazil. If you haven't read "The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara" in Realms of Fantasy, I highly suggest you get out there and buy that issue. It's good.

The only sad thing, of course, is that I don't read Portuguese.

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And what would a link post be without Fluevogs? I am partial to the Red Cana, but the blacks are great. You couldn't go wrong with this shoe in about any color they offer. These would look *so* good with a frock from the 40s or 50s.

Maybe this sweet dress:

Brain melting in 3..2...1...

Catherine

The Holiday Post

It can be interesting, being the person who has divorced their family around the holiday season. Sometimes, you feel it, that lack of not belonging. And then, you suck it up and realize how lucky you are. Witness.

Bryon and I just hit the house with the Christmas stick. The tree is up, the mechanized polar bears are in the front yard, and even the animatronic triceratops has a Santa hat on. Bring on the festive.

Tomorrow I see a good part of my extended family of friends and indulge in a little gift giving. That's always a good time.

I am married to a wonderful man who complements and supports me, who helps make me the best I can be. If I were to do nothing else in my life but to be fifty percent of this wonderful marriage, I could deal.

As harsh as work has been without Lorna, I work with a great team in the office. My boss is wise and perceptive and cares about her teachers. My teachers really support the college. It may not be a joy to go to work every day, but frankly, it is most days.

Because of work, I don't have to worry about making bills, paying for my health insurance, and planning for my retirement. It's a good thing to be employed full-time doing a job I love.

I appreciate knowing people who support my writing. There are a lot of great people who keep telling me to stick it out and be patient. I have a great support group, and I enjoy supporting other members of the group. I enjoy my writing friends. Interchange is wonderful, and I enjoy being a part of the writing community that I have on line and in my personal life.

There are many ways that I am blessed, and it's always good to remember those things. I hope that the holidays fill you with goodwill and gratitude for your life.

Right. I need to buy a few more Christmas cards. I hope Black Friday is a little less packed now.

Catherine

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Ah, Tobias Buckell, little did I know that I would end this day wanting to have your puppies. 🙂

You barely know me, but my soul wants to thank you. Because my brain has been allowing itself to be so distracted by the other stuff to remember that this is the core.

Not of only my writing life, but my life in general.

Eat much turkey. Be happy. And thank you.

Catherine

Split

Split was recommended to me at Kidlitcon while I was there this October, and I have to tell you, this is one of the best books I've ever read depicting children of abuse.

Swati Avasthi puts us in the mind of Jace Witherspoon, child of domestic violence. Jace is kicked out of his home after being beaten by his dad while attempting to defend his mom, and rides from Chicago to New Mexico to begin a fragile family life with his brother Christian, who left home years earlier.

Avasthi used to coordinate a domestic-violence legal clinic, which is perhaps why her characters are so credible. Fiction and non-fiction alike feed our desire for the lurid in regard to abuse, but it's a rare writer who can show the roller coaster of emotion that reside in an abuse victim. Jace both believes his mother will come to him, and at the same time believes that she is incapable of escaping her co-dependent situation. He abhors his dad's violence and is incapacitated when he finds that kind of tendency in himself.

Christian lives with the guilt of having left his younger brother, and the fear of discovery by his family. Both boys battle their background in regard to what is and isn't acceptable regarding relationships, both with others and between themselves.

There are no easy answers for Avasthi's characters. First hand, I know that they will revisit these emotional rough spots over and over. Some days they will be triumphant. Other days they will fail. They will always have issues with their father, an abuser, and their mother, who stays in the situation. It won't be easy for them, even though they do have each other and some strong supporting characters.

Split is a good book to read. It doesn't end neatly, but it ends hopefully, as the brothers decide to carry on with their lives. I wish them the best of luck and healing in their circumstances, and I strongly recommend this book for teens and their parents.

Catherine

Godiva or Blue Fly?

A very quick reset: Bryon's Dad is quickly mending. He was behaving like a hellion yesterday, and his doctor finally got to him. The doctor decided it was the drugs he's been on for the last several months, especially, the steroids, that have been making him increasingly psychotic.

And sure enough, after a quick diagnosis of his lungs and deciding he didn't need the inhaler, once the steroids were removed, he stopped believing weirdness, like Phyllis had called the police to take him away.

We are all much happier this morning. Bryon's off to see him.

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Last night, Bryon came up with an interesting proposal regarding TSA. If the procedure survives holiday scrutiny, and we are subjected to the choice of irradiation or groping, he thought perhaps civil disobedience might be called for. In the same spirit as Swift's A Modest Proposal, I give you the lesser of three evils.

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Various and Sundry

Tomorrow begins two days of teacher development workshops at Kirkwood. At a normal university, one wouldn't have to do something that smacks of high school in-service, but we are a community college, which some suggest is high school with ash trays, so it goes. It's actually a step backward for us, but our new administrative cabinet, coming from secondary education as they do, have lots of odd ideas about how things go. My real vacation starts Wednesday. And I'll try to keep an open mind about the next two days.

Bryon's vacation starts tomorrow. He will be heading down to his parents. Bryon's dad had an episode on Friday night, and the last we heard, he's not quite in this reality. He may be exhibiting early signs of dementia, and he may be heading into a care facility, as he would be a bit of a handful for Bryon's mom at the moment. We are waiting and seeing.

On the other hand, our office staffer Lorna has finally gone home. After a month of a feeding tube and ice chips, she's eating again. And loving it. She should return to us after Christmas break.

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Reluctantly, I'm thinking about putting The Were-humans on hold for a bit. I usually stubborn out stories and bend them to my will. I would rather have some fun for a bit, and get back to the melodrama that is the Klarion series. I can hop back into The Were-humans when I feel like it, and maybe even do the Seanan McGuire trick of writing a couple of things at a time.

Right now, I don't need a quasi-depressing story about the state of things in backwards Iowa to bring me down. Except in small doses, maybe. The creative process is hard to predict. Now that I've said this, I'll be hit by a lightening bolt of inspiration and finish the thing.

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I've given two books high rankings lately: Swati Avasthi's Split and Kij Johnson's The Fox Woman. Both are worth talking about. I've been reluctant to discuss Split, as well as TSA, because after the Amazon thing, I didn't want this journal to become all abuse, all the time.

However, I can speak about Split in positive, glowing terms, so that will help. The TSA thing I'm going to have to wrap my mind around when I get ready to travel to Vegas twice in January/February. Groped or Irradiated? That is the question. What a question. I'll think about that and write something soon (ish).

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My Christmas present was the color Nook. I have downloaded two books onto it. It seems pretty easy to use, and I'm going to enjoy it while I travel. I am heartbroken that Kij's second Japanese book is not available in eformat yet. Get on that, would you, publishers? There will be a review of that coming up as well. There's also a VP interview or two in the wings.

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I'm not running out of shoes yet, which is scary. Recommending the gray and blue Inez Sextons, although you yourself might prefer the black.

Catherine

Mining for the Zen

The almost agent bubble has burst.

I use the bubble metaphor a lot when I talk about publishing. It's the perfect analogy. Everyone talks to you in terms of shininess and promise, but until you have something like a contract in your hand, the bubble is a shiny, fragile thing. If you try to grasp it before things are ready, the bubble pops, and all you're left with is pretty much nothing. Well, glycerol. Which isn't much unless you're under the right circumstances.

The Almost Agent passed on Old Nick.

You won't find vitriol under here. Nor will you find unbridled optimism.

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