Surly Questions: Emmie Mears

Today I’m happy to bring you an interview with Emmie Mears, former fellow Missoulian, outspoken feminist, overall badass, and an author I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future. Emmie just released her first book, and was kind enough to answer some questions about her process, her writing trials, and what it’s like to suddenly become a Big Five author. And when you’re done reading, you can pick up a copy for a song. See what I did there? Thanks, Emmie!

gYokKB26 When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I always just sort of was. I wrote constantly as a kid. Journaled every day, started novels all the time — it never really occurred to me though that that was a career I could have until university though. We were really poor, and for whatever reason, I never made the connection that my favorite authors spun my favorite worlds for a living.

What, for you, is the hardest part about being a writer?

Right now it’s juggling a day job and deadlines. I work long hours and when I come home I’m physically and mentally exhausted to the point where I just want to eat gelato out of the pint and watch Buffy or Supernatural over from the beginning (again). I’m at a stage where I’m trying to find a schedule that works for me in the midst of a lot of upheaval and life change, and I’ve had varying degrees of success with that. It’s kind of a work in progress.

Tell us about THE MASKED SONGBIRD.

THE MASKED SONGBIRD, at its core, is a story about how strength is not something you’re born with: it’s something you build. I wanted to write a deeply flawed hero who really wasn’t a hero at the beginning, but show that qualities she always possessed (compassion and determination) can be molded into true heroism.

What books or media inspired THE MASKED SONGBIRD?

We pitched it as Bridget Jones meets Spider-Man, and that about covers that. Gwen’s a mess, like Bridget. She’s also picked on, like Peter Parker. Ultimately I wanted her to find her value in herself.

What does your typical writing day look like?

I don’t think I have one at this point. When I’m in the throes of writerly big bang, I’ll wake up, putter around the internet for a while, usually write a few thousand words, and then fizzle back into an internet slug.

How do you juggle the challenges of daily life and writing?

Right now…I don’t. I’m trying really hard to get used to a new home, a new life situation, deadlines, a day job, a commute that grew by about 300%, and myriad other things. As chaotic as it’s been, it’s really the start of something positive, I think.

When do you know a book is done?

That’s a tough one. I almost feel like they’re never done. Even with THE MASKED SONGBIRD hitting shelves, I still feel like it’s not done. It’s an odd feeling, but maybe that’s just the nature of a creative profession: our styles evolve, our voice can change, and publishing often moves so slowly that when something comes out, you wrote it two years ago and are a different writer come pub day.

Eventually, though, if you want anyone to ever see them, you DO have to be able to let go.

What has been the most rewarding thing about connecting with other writers through social media?

Oh, man. I met one of my best friends through WordPress, Kristin McFarland. Three years ago I was just starting out my little author blog and we became friends, but it wasn’t until that winter when my cousin very suddenly and tragically passed away that we became close. She emailed me because she’d experienced a similar loss and understood. Since then we’ve talked almost every day, and she flew out here last October for Capclave. I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be the writer I am without the wonderful, zany, exciting, driven people I’ve been able to connect with on social media. Including you, O Esteemed Host of Mine. 🙂

It seems like you unexpectedly went from just another querying writer to Big Five author. Want to tell us a little bit about that journey?

Yeah, that was weird. LOL. When I finished THE MASKED SONGBIRD, I knew it was going to be a hard sell. Superheroes are tough. Urban fantasy right now is tough. The timeline was tough. It was just sort of stacked against me and my little book. I got so fortunate. My fabulous agent, Jessica Negrón from Talcott-Notch, was an assistant at the time I sent her boss my book. She plucked it out of the slushpile and LOVED it…a few weeks later, I had an R&R from Gina and was getting personalized rejections across the board from agents who loved it, but didn’t think they could sell it.

When Jes got promoted to agent in January of 2013, she begged Gina to be allowed to take me on, and Gina gave her blessing. I became Jes’s first client. We got a lot of requests from editors for the book, but the timeline and content made it tough. It made it to acquisitions two or three times at Big Five publishers, but ultimately garnered passes because the content and timeline were seen as a little too risky. That’s where we got super fortunate again — Mary-Theresa Hussey at Harlequin had the book and was getting ready to help launch Harlequin’s new e-imprint, Harlequin E. Their goal was to be able to publish books that didn’t quite fit into their other imprints, and it ended up being exactly what we needed. They’ve been fantastic, working with us on the timeline and busting butts to get THE MASKED SONGBIRD in reader hands before the referendum against which it’s set. I’ve been really blown away.

Then this spring, the announcement hit that Harper Collins had bought Harlequin, and I got a message from Jes one morning saying I was now a Harper Collins author. It was literally the first thing I saw when I grabbed my phone that morning, which probably didn’t help my ability to comprehend it. Ha. So that happened.

That might be more than “a little bit.” But it’s kind of a long story in general. 🙂

What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

It’s actually not even writing related, but it’s a Dolly Parton quote I adore: “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” It just fits so much about writing. You can’t be the next Jo Rowling. You can’t be the next Stephen King or John Scalzi or Diana Gabaldon. You can just be you, and it takes time and self-engagement to find out who you the writer really is.

Who inspires you?

Many, many people. The writers I’m surrounded with on social media who keep at it day in and day out. People like Eve Ensler who take the pain of the world into themselves and still manage to give out kindness, empathy, and compassion instead of letting it hollow them out into poison and toxicity. People like Maya Angelou whose long lives were not long enough. People like Josh Groban for creating beautiful, moving art and at the same time enjoying absurdity and earthy humor. People like Misha Collins for finding the zany and joyful in the world and using it to offset sadness and poverty. Lots of people.

The Masked Songbird_FC (2)What’s next for you after THE MASKED SONGBIRD?

A nap.

No, seriously. I need one. I’ll be working on the sequel to THE MASKED SONGBIRD this summer and then come my August deadline, probably hibernating for a few days.

Thanks so much for having me, Dan!

About THE MASKED SONGBIRD

Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.

Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.

Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally–and most mysteriously–she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.

Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends–even her country.

Bio:

Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.

Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.

Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.

You can order THE MASKED SONGBIRD here! Released in a box set, you get four great paranormal and urban fantasy books for less than $4!

Follow Emmie on Twitter and join her on Facebook!

Surly Questions: Tristan J. Tarwater

When Tracy McCusker from Dusty Journal first heard of Tristan J. Tarwater, she said: “That is the best name for a writer EVER!” And it pretty much is. Tristan is the author of Thieves at Heart and the upcoming Self-Made Scoundrel, the first two books in the Valley of Ten Crescents series. Thanks for the great interview, Tristan!

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Oh wow. At the risk of sounding cliched, when I was very young. I wrote my first book when I was 7; it was about my brother. I learned to read pretty early on and loved reading and as I got older wanted to do the same thing. Write stories, create worlds. The prospect was very exciting as a child and it still is.

2. What is the meaning behind the phrase “back that elf up”?

Back That Elf Up is a pun; when I first started writing the stories of Tavera and the Ten Crescents I was still used to saving things on disks and those disks inevitably getting corrupted or just flat out destroyed. The netbook I was writing on at the time didn’t even had a disk drive and I was worried about my computer dying so at the suggestion of my Admin (and spouse) I posted all the stories on an invite-only blog to archive them. I figured, Blogger isn’t going anywhere. My computer could get hit by lightning. So they were ‘backed up.’ The elf part is kind of obvious. I’m obsessed with elves, probably from a very early exposure to Zelda when I was younger. This blog was called ‘Back That Elf Up’ to reflect the nature of the thing and when we had to think of a name for the official site I thought, ‘well, this is easy to remember.’ And it is more related to ‘backing up’ other writers and creators, supporting them. So basically, it’s a lot of things.

3. Supporting other indie authors seems very important to you. What do you do to support your fellow indie authors, and what has been your greatest source of support?

I think the biggest support I have been given and have been able to give is advice from other authors. Connecting people however I can and sharing my experiences. Being indie means you can sometimes feel overwhelmed trying to navigate the waters of publishing, trying to find an editor, a cover, where to print, etc. and getting a bit grounded and being pointed in one direction can save you a lot of brain flails. My greatest source of support has been my spouse who has encouraged me to write and celebrated with me every step of the way. My friend Nathan who has read ALL the beta and is probably the only person who knows how Ten Crescents ends. MeiLin Miranda who told me that I could be better, which was kind of a lifesaver. And my editor, Annetta Ribken who is just fabulous.

4. What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Hmm, it’s a toss up between ‘Just keep writing’ and ‘Get an editor.’ If you don’t keep writing, you’ll have nothing to edit and you’ll never get better. But editing is important. Another brain needs to take it in and let you know what’s up, to put it lightly.

5. You were born and raised in New York City. What sensibilities, if any, have your surroundings brought to the Valley of Ten Crescents series?

When people find out that I grew up in NYC the reaction I generally get is ‘Man, it’s so busy! How did you deal with all those people?’ And people fail to realize that it’s very easy to keep to yourself, to get lost in a sea of people and be alone with your own thoughts. With that many people and neighborhoods, it’s very easy for enclaves of people to follow their own rules, set up their own norms. It’s a place where a lot of people can believe very different things and live very different lives adjacent to one another. Yet with all the dissonance, things keep going.

6. What are the most formative books in your personal library?

Probably the Crystal Cave series by Mary Stewart. I read that as a young person and to this day, I still don’t think of it as fantasy? It takes Merlin who damn near everyone knows about and turned him into a person, which I thought was awesome. It shows the power of time and story by giving accounts of how things really happened as opposed to the flash and bang of myths. I must have read that book so many times. I kind of have a bit of an investment in Arthurian Legend, given my name and all.

7. Tavera, the main character of Ten Crescents, apparently started as a character in a role-playing game. How has she evolved in her transition into prose?

Well initially I heard we were going to play a game so I thought, ‘What would be fun to play? Okay, a rogue, make her a half-elf. One of her ears is cut.” Then you get your stats and try to fit them to the character, trying to think of back story to have the numbers make sense. At some point they diverged because well, characters in books don’t have stats. Their limitations and abilities aren’t numerical. The back story gave her more history than was necessary to kill things and her journey is definitely more emotional than in the campaign. Especially because the party died in a TPK. HA!

8. Who is the titular “Self-Made Scoundrel” of the second Ten Crescents book, and what’s behind the title?

Tavera’s adopted father, Derk, is the Self-Made Scoundrel. It’s a prequel to Thieves at Heart and talks about how Derk goes from being Dershik, the son of a Baron to the man who kidnaps Tavera at the beginning of Thieves at Heart. Like Tavera he spent his childhood at the mercy of other people but starts his story in a very different place. He has help along the way to scoundrelhood but unlike Tavera, he gets it much later on in life and he has his own weaknesses and strengths to work with.

9. Who does your cover art for Ten Crescents?

Amy Clare Learmonth aka Ruby Saturna does my covers and she is just fabulous. I found her on Twitter and I really dig her style, in addition to her just being a great person in general. She actually does a lot of awesome cyberpunk illustration. She’s in DeviantArt as well.

10. What has been the biggest challenge in writing and self-publishing the Ten Crescents series?

Getting attention is very difficult. Especially for myself and my personality. Believe it or not I’m pretty introverted and publicizing the book and the series has been really hard. Getting people to review and take you seriously after all the work you’ve put in is hard. I’m glad I have help from my Admin and for the internet. It’s made getting info about what we’re about and about Tavera way easier.

11. What songs are in your writing soundtrack?

I find that I write best in silence for the most part to be honest. But sometimes when I need to get my brain in a good spot I listen to PJ Harvey (Uh Huh Her) or The Black Heart Procession (anything but the 3rd album). I was listening to a lot of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Lyre of Orpheus and Abattoir Blues specifically) when I first started writing the series so I listen to that as well. And Blonde Redhead is another good one. Kind of moody, stuck in your brain kind of tuned I suppose, heh.

12. What are your top five “desert island” books?

Wow, well. Haroun and the Sea of Stories would have to go on their. It’s one of my favorite books. An illustrated William Blake anthology because I love how he combined his poems and art. It’s just glorious and he himself is such an interesting person. I would bring Sky Doll which is technically a comic by Barbara Cenepa and Alessandro Barbucci because it’s such a killer story with great art as well. I love the mixture of religion, faith, sex, technology. It has a lot. Principia Discordia. And the complete works of HP Lovecraft because I love his writing style and when you’re on a desert island surrounded by the ocean, you need to be totally freaked out by Cthulhu.