This post continues an occasional series on writers — how and why they write, what inspires them and how they overcome challenges like writer’s block and rejection.
Today’s Q&A features a baker’s dozen questions with Margaret Yang, an Ann Arbor-based science fiction writer whose first novel launched this week. AND it features a contest! See the bottom for your chance to win Margaret’s new book.
1. What have you written?
I write novels and short stories. I’ve published lots of science fiction short stories and my first novel came out this week. I wrote Fate’s Mirror with my longtime writing partner, Harry R. Campion. We share the pen name M.H. Mead when we write together.
Fate’s Mirror is about a hacker and the artificial intelligence who is trying to kill him. We have another near-future novel coming out this fall.
2. What do you wish you’d written?
3. Who or what inspires you?
Writing with another person is extremely inspiring. There are days Harry and I riff like jazz musicians, each of us trying to outdo the other. When we both bring our A game, it’s magic.
You know what else is inspiring? Deadlines. One of those can get me inspired in a hurry.
4. How do you answer when someone asks you, “What do you do?”
I always say I’m a writer and a parent. Those two jobs fill my days, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else, including a shower. What’s really fun is to tell people that I write science fiction and watch their eyes widen. I guess people expect a suburban housewife to write children’s books or cookbooks or something.
5. When do you most enjoy writing? When do you enjoy it least?
I am one hundred percent a morning person. I enjoy mornings for writing, and am pretty useless in the afternoon or evenings. Even if I set aside a whole evening to write, by that time of day, I have run out of energy. I sometimes write in the evenings anyway, either out of necessity or desire, but I’m lucky if I get a third of the output I would get in the mornings.
I least enjoy writing in a coffee shop. I don’t know how other writers do it. It’s always so noisy and the music is always terrible. I’ve tried it a few times but I always give up in frustration.
6. Describe your favorite writing environment.
I do most of my writing when my kids are at school—when the house is quiet and I have a fresh cup of coffee close by and I know I have several hours before I switch into mom mode. I recently moved my home office into our finished basement and I got to paint the walls my favorite color—cotton candy pink. Want to see?
7. How do you budget your time for the creative part of writing versus the business side – marketing, communicating with your agent or editor, tracking finances, etc.?
In publishing, things have to happen on a deadline. So when I get email from an editor, I answer right away. Let’s say a magazine editor wants revisions. Well, there goes that day’s writing. Recently, I lost several days writing trying to perfect some cover art. It’s awful, because the writing is what makes the whole thing go, and by all rights, it should come first. But I’m sort of used to it, because I also push writing aside for my kids. (They come before writing, before anything.) I’ve learned to “hold that thought,” sometimes for days or weeks.
8. How do you deal with writer’s block?
I really, really like writing. To me, “writer’s block” is nonsensical. It would be like having a “relaxing on the beach block” or “eating ice cream block.” It’s not that writing is a constant party. There are days it’s agony. But overall, I’d rather be writing than not writing.
9. How do you deal with rejection?
Every short story I’ve sold has been rejected at least once. Some were rejected ten times before I sold them. That just shows you how subjective these things are. Recently, a story was rejected because the editor hated the exposition. The very next editor I sent it to bought it, raving about the “skillful handling of exposition.” What can you do but laugh?
Harry and I are self-publishing our novels, so there won’t be any editorial rejection, but readers can reject us at any time by refusing to buy our books or by giving a bad review. All we can do is hope that the novels find their audience.
10. Do you outline a structure before you start writing or do you just let the story unfold?
When you collaborate, you simply must outline. Harry and I spend a lot of time making sure our outline is solid before writing the story. We’ve been writing together so long that we can usually tell when we’ve got our plot in good working order.
Even when I write short stories on my own, I like having a handle on the plot before I begin. With the plot fixed in my mind, I can write more freely, concentrating on the more subtle aspects of the story like characterization or mood.
11. Do you know immediately when you’ve written something good?
I never know. It takes a bit of distance for me to tell.
12. Did anything about your approach to writing change after you were first published?
Not really. I still do multiple drafts before I show my work-in-progress to anyone. I still rely heavily on my critique partners. I still study the industry to try to keep up with all the changes in publishing.
One recent change for me is that I joined Twitter. (I’m @Margaret_Yang) I did that specifically to make connections with other writers and industry pros. It’s been extremely helpful.
13. Why do you write?
Because it’s fun! I love playing with stories, shaping them and reworking them until the finished product on the page matches the vision in my mind. Then, with any luck, someone reading it gets that same vision in his mind. How cool is that?
To get you excited about Fate’s Mirror, here’s a promotional video — and a giveaway! Comment on this blog post, and Margaret will use a random number generator to pick one lucky winner to receive Fate’s Mirror, either in hard copy or as an e-book. Comment by July 30 to be eligible.
Blogging disclosure: I am rarely unbiased about anything I write about. Think of Newvine Growing as my version of Oprah’s favorite things. In the case of Margaret, we’ve been friends for years. I make no representation of impartiality — I would love for her to be a best seller — but I have not yet read the book so my endorsement is based purely on friendship, until I dig into my own copy.