Today I’m happy to bring you a “take ten” interview with author, martial artist, and long-time Writer Unboxed supporter and friend Lorna Suzuki. Lorna celebrates two book releases today, including the publication of the final novel in her nine-part Imago series, The Broken Covenant, and the first book in a new series entitled The Dream Merchant Saga: Book One, The Magic Crystal. I’m thrilled she’s with us today to tell us more about her life as a writer, what it means to be self-published, and how one stunning realization compelled her to write ten books–so far.
Lorna also has a special offer for WU readers–a chance to win one of seven ebooks. See the end of this interview for details. Enjoy!
TW: Tell us a little about your journey to becoming a storyteller.
LS: I’ve been writing non-fiction for years, but my foray into fiction seemed to be pre-destined by fate. When I turned 39, the age my mother was when she died, I began a journal for my daughter, Nia. I never had the opportunity to ask my mother about some of her views and life experiences as I was only nine when she passed away and I knew if something happened to me, none would be able to tell Nia about my experiences. This was especially true when it comes to venturing into the male dominated field of law enforcement and as a female martial artist in an all-male dojo at a time when society was not yet completely receptive to women in these arenas. Then one day, after teaching at a martial arts seminar, some of the ladies told me they never knew a woman could really fight until they saw me take on men much larger than myself. When I asked why, they said, “It’s in our culture, our upbringing and in the books we read.” A quick trip to a bookstore was revealing. Many of the books had the damsel-in-distress waiting to be rescued or the women had supernatural powers in order to defeat their opponents. Right away, I knew I wanted my daughter to read about women doing the rescuing, not being rescued. Also, I wanted her to read about a female with realistic qualities instead of admire a role model with powers no human, male or female could ever hope to acquire.
TW: Imago Book Seven: The Broken Covenant, the ninth and last novel in the Imago Fantasy series, releases today. What has defined this series for you? How has it evolved?
LS: I was flattered when a film producer described it to those in the industry as ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘300’ meets ‘The Last Samurai’, but I suppose it’s the same reason why it’s been difficult for the traditional publishing houses to place it in their line! The fans of the Imago series tell me that what makes my novels unique is that the female protagonist, though she is petite, rather unassuming and lacks supernatural powers, through years of training in the warrior arts, can hold her own. They say they love her tenacity, physical and mental strength, but on the other side of the coin, she’s quite damaged and vulnerable – very human.Even though it is considered epic or high fantasy, it’s low in the magic department. My characters must rely on their own wits and skills to survive than to be miraculously rescued by a powerful wizard.
Biggest evolution in my storytelling strategy? It was probably to introduce characters that offered a touch of humor to storylines that would otherwise be very dark.
TW: Has your process evolved over the course of writing your novels? How long does it take for you to move from draft to finished novel?
LS: I’ve noticed that with the last five or six novels I’ve written the opening and closing scenes first. After that, I’ll roughly plot out each chapter before filling the pages. I write one draft. From this, I’ll edit and proofread. With the first novel, it took me one month to write the book. It was quite bizarre as I just wrote the story as though I was merely transcribing events that had already happened. (I even knew all the main characters’ back stories as I wrote the novel.) Of course, nine novels later (Imago Prophecy & Legacy are prequels to the Imago Chronicles, covering one thousand years of history leading up to first book in the series), I’ve had to develop a time line to keep events and characters in order, but other than writing the beginning and ending first, I’m a plotter by necessity in order to remain true to the characters and events that unfold to affect their lives.
Typically, if time allows it, I’ll write one or two chapters per week, usually finishing the ms in about five months. Polishing it up for publication is a much longer process, usually taking more than six months.
TW: What do you wish you knew back when you started writing that you know now-about the craft, about the industry, and/or about yourself as a writer?
LS: I think most serious writers write with the intention of becoming a traditionally published author. For me, I wrote, first and foremost, to tell my daughter a story. Only when others started reading and asking for the next novel did I consider the idea of becoming published. I was aware it was hard to break into this business, I just never realized it would be quite the rollercoaster ride it had become! After going through two literary agents and having some ask that I contact them once the movie deal is underway, I’ve found the road to traditional publication can be a disheartening journey. If it wasn’t for the great book reviews and fans asking for the next adventure, I think I would have just produced the books for my daughter and left it at that. If anything, it was a test of my resilience!
TW: Today isn’t only the day you’re launching the last book in the Imago series; it’s the launch day for a new series-and a new genre. Tell us a little about The Dream Merchant Saga, and what makes this series so different from the last.
LS: The Dream Merchant Saga is a fantasy trilogy written for the YA audience, so the level of graphic violence has been toned down while the element of humor is more prevalent. The other thing that makes this story so different is that it is my first novel written in collaboration with my daughter, Nia.
Aside from being a YA fantasy, where the characters in the Imago series were mostly adults dealing with how to save their world or preserve their lives and livelihood as they knew it, the two teenagers in the Dream Merchant Saga are trying to survive in their world while pressed into a quest that neither really wants to be involved in. In Book One, The Magic Crystal, a foolish young princess strikes up a deal with a Wizard known as the Dream Merchant. She soon learns that dreams can have a very dark side and self-indulgent wishes can come at a high cost to others. In accepting the magic crystal imbued with powers to make all her dreams comes true, the princess unleashes a curse and the only way to break it is to reclaim the locket she used to seal the deal. Her only hope for salvation comes from a young man who was meant to be a knight and a village idiot with a mysterious past. Together, they embark on a mission, but for this unlikely trio it becomes test of loyalty, friendship and self-sacrifice as they try to survive this quest, and each other.
TW: What has it been like for you, working with your daughter?
LS: Working with Nia has been fun. With this first book, she didn’t actually do any of the writing, but she did act as my ‘YA consultant’. She’s very well read, so it was helpful to find out what were some of the elements she really enjoyed in the books she loved.
Because I haven’t been her age since the Cretaceous Period, many of the things I found humorous or matters I took issue with probably don’t apply to this generation. She provided invaluable insight as to what her generation regards as funny or situations they must grapple with that can be quite an issue in their young lives. With the upcoming sequel, Nia is now actively taking part in the actual writing of this story. I can only describe the process as tag-team writing.
TW: As someone who’s chosen to stick with self-publishing even when the chance to publish traditionally presented itself, you must have spent much time considering the pros and cons for each road. Can you share any of your thoughts with us?
LS: Self-publishing has worked for me, but it’s not for everybody. My biggest motivator was to make these books available to readers looking for something unique in this genre and to introduce a female protagonist who was really an ordinary woman pushing herself to do the extraordinary.
There’s still a stigma attached to being an indie author. Unfortunately, it is one usually applied by other writers seeking publication via the traditional route. They believe that self-publishing destroys an author’s credibility; that a great story will always be published by traditional means. Sadly, I know a number of excellent writers with wonderful stories, but they’ve been turned down because their novels did not fit the publisher’s line.
Also, there is a lot of pressure for an author to find representation from a literary agent just to get a foot in the publisher’s door. I’ve learned that having an agent with a proven sales record with some of the biggest publishers doesn’t guarantee a book deal.
If anything, self-publishing got my works noticed. I doubt I’d have several film producers interested in my fantasy series now if I hadn’t gone this route.
TW: What do you feel about traditional publishing today? What benefits of self-publishing were you loathe to give up when the opportunity to publish traditionally came along?
LS: Authors landing a book deal with a credible traditional publishing company should consider themselves lucky. Of course, it’s incredibly hard work and frustrating to acquire a literary agent or to be selected from a mountainous slush pile. I don’t miss this aspect of publishing. What I do like is being able to focus on the business of writing rather than spend so much time and energy sending out queries to find someone interested in publishing my works. I also like being able to set the price of my books, therefore determining the profit margin.
At this point, I’d have to have a pretty good reason to go with a traditional publishing company. If I did sign a contract with one, depending upon the nature of the contract, if asked to make edits, I’d make them as long as the spirit of the characters and stories remained intact in the process. In the case of Raincoast Books (the publisher of the Harry Potter series in Canada), when editor Jessie Finkelstein asked if I’d be willing to rewrite the Imago series for a YA audience because she loved the female character so much, I had to say no. Not only would the fans of the series accuse me of selling out, but I truly believed something would be lost in the spirit of the stories by rewriting it for a younger audience.
TW: What advice do you have for aspiring novelists, especially those who may be considering self-publishing?
LS: Those who are reluctant to relinquish creative control, don’t want to conform to specific word counts, are unwilling to wait the 18 to 24 months for the book to be published, and those appealing to a niche market are good candidates for self-publishing. Just do your homework! Beware of the vanity presses, as they are still out there. Unless you want to re-mortgage your home to self-publish, use your garage as a book warehouse, and plan to sell 10,000 books yourself, a good option is a Print-on-Demand service. Check POD companies as they are not all equal in terms of quality of product, distribution channels, set-up fees, etc… Whether you go traditional or self-published, the author must make every effort to make sure this is the best possible product they can put out there. Don’t take your mother’s or best friend’s word that you have a great story worthy of sharing with the world. If you can’t afford a professional editor, invest in writing lessons to hone your skills, and then garner advice from fellow writers. This means giving your ms to your writing critique group, a test market to sample the writing, etc… And when I say test your books out, give it to the hardest audience to please; those who usually don’t read your genre or those who admit they don’t enjoy reading at all. If you can keep them engaged and entertained to the end and they ask for the next adventure, you probably have a story that can stand up pretty well to public scrutiny.
TW: What’s next for you?
LS: I’m currently working on Book Two of the Dream Merchant Saga. Also, I’m working with my entertainment attorney to sort through the latest Option Agreement from a film production company seeking book-to-movie rights for Imago. As for my writing career, I anticipate Book Three of the Dream Merchant Saga will be my last novel and I’ll end my fiction-writing career with this. I think twelve novels is a nice, zen number to end it with.
Thanks for a great interview, Lorna, and best of luck with your new books.
Readers, if you’d like a chance to win one of seven ebooks, contact Lorna through her website @ http://web.me.com/imagobooks. On the subject line, enter ‘Writer Unboxed ebook giveaway’. Leave you name and if you’d like to win either the new YA fantasy ‘The Magic Crystal’ or ‘Imago Chronicles: Book One A Warrior’s Tale’. Contest ends on midnight, Oct. 30th. Winners’ names will be drawn at random and will be announced on the Imago website on Oct. 31st, 2010. Good luck!