Interview with Victoria Strauss

Q: How does one grow up to be a fantasy writer?

V: If you’re me, you grow up reading myths and fairy tales. Even as a very small child, this was my favorite kind of reading. Although I read widely (besides fantasy and science fiction, mystery ismy favorite genre), I always come back to mythic or fairy-tale literature. When I began writing, at the age of 17, it just seemed natural to writefantasy–I honestly can’t remember ever wanting to write anything else.

Q: Which authors would you say have been your greatest inspirationsources?

V: Some of my all-time favorites are Ursula LeGuin (especiallyTHE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS), John Crowley (especially LITTLE, BIG) MervynPeake (the GORMENGHAST trilogy), Guy Gavriel Kay (especially THE FIONAVARTAPESTRY), Jane Gaskell (THE CITY), Anne McCaffrey’s first Pern books,and anything by Patricia McKillip.  I’ve read many books over theyears, but these are the ones that stay with me.

Q: Any regrets in becoming a full time writer?

V: None at all!  I love to be able set my own schedule andbe my own boss.  I’m very disciplined, and don’t have any troublesitting down to work (though I do sometimes have trouble making myselfstop).  My production has really increased since I went full-time–Ihave more time available for writing, plus I don’t have the constant upheavalsof a hectic job schedule, which sometimes forced me to take a month ormore away from whatever book I was working on.  Quitting work wasa risky decision financially, but so far it has definitely been worth it.

Q: What has been the major challenges in becoming a writer?

V: Obviously, getting published and staying published are thetwo basic challenges a writer faces.  So far, I’ve been pretty lucky. Another challenge is the discipline you need to research, plan and writea book–it can be daunting to commit yourself to a task you know it’s goingto take a year or two to complete, especially if there isn’t a guaranteedpublication contract waiting at the end of it.  Perseverance is alsoa challenge–keeping on writing and submitting even in the face of rejections.

More recently, I’ve been faced with a new challenge:  the necessityof taking some of the responsibility for promoting my books.  It usedto be that a writer could count on his or her publisher to take care ofthis…but nowadays publishers’ publicity budgets don’t stretch very far,and if you’re new or not very well-known, it can be an uphill battle gettingyour work noticed.  Luckily the Internet can be a tremendous helpin this regard.  I’ve taken full advantage of that over the past coupleof years, including creating my own website.

I think that the basic rule of the writing life is that for every challengeyou face and overcome, there’s always another one waiting that you didn’texpect!

Q: Do you have any advice for the young and promising that hasn’tquite made it yet?

V: Writing is a craft, and like any craft it takes time to becomeproficient.  Don’t expect to be successful right away.  On theother hand, just because one story or novel doesn’t get accepted todaydoesn’t mean another won’t get accepted 2, or 3, or 10 years from now. So don’t get discouraged–or rather, accept your discouragement and keepgoing anyway.

Don’t believe the people who say that publishing is in deep trouble,or that there’s no good or innovative writing anymore, or that publishersare only interested in finding the next Tom Clancy, or that there’s noroom for the new writer in today’s tight publishing market.  Gettingpublished *is* tough–but it always has been.  And it’s harder tostay in print these days than it used to be, even once you’ve publishedseveral books.  But publishers *are* still looking for new voices. They’re still interested in good writing, and they’re still willing totake a chance on something different. There is very definitely room fornew writers with ability, and there always will be.

New writers often dream of making a living through their writing, oreven of becoming rich.  I honestly don’t think that financial self-sufficiencyis a good goal for a writer to have.  It’s too unlikely to happen. I read somewhere that the average professional writer in this country makesabout $5,000 a year.  Of the writers I know, many of them multi-publishedand critically successful, there are only a handful who actually supportthemselves through their writing.  The rest all have day jobs (or,like me, have made a conscious decision to sacrifice financial securityfor writing time).  If you make money your goal, you run the riskof being bitterly disappointed, and giving up your dream.

Last but not least:  watch out for scams.  There’s a hugenumber of these waiting for new writers:  literary agents who chargeyou reading or other fees and then never try to sell your work, publishersthat want you to pay the costs of publishing your book, freelance bookdoctors who charge exorbitant prices for a rudimentary edit.  Be cautiouswhen looking for an agent or a publisher, and educate yourself about standardindustry practice so you won’t fall prey to scammers.

Q: Without giving away any major plot, what can you tell us aboutyour upcoming novel The Garden of the Stone?

V: THE GARDEN OF THE STONE begins about 30 years after THE ARMOF THE STONE ends.  Several of the major characters from ARM return,but the rest are new.  The main story involves Cariad, the daughterof ARM’s hero.  She’s a skilled assassin and empath, who is sent ona dangerous search-and-rescue mission.  But Cariad has her own agenda,which her superiors don’t know about, and it puts her in more danger thanshe realizes.  There’s also a prophecy, a quest, and several plottwists–and a happy ending, though the book as a whole is quite dark.

Q: What are your plans for the future, are you going to continueon the “Arm of the Stone” series or do you have something completely differentin mind?

V: I hope to be able to do a third book in the series (I’m workingon the proposal now), and I’m thinking about setting some short storiesin that world.  But I’m also eager to move on to new projects andnew worlds.  I think I’d like to do a standalone or two before gettingback into series fiction.

Q: What has the Internet meant for you as an author?

V: The Internet has been a huge boon for me as an author. It’s a terrific research tool–you can find out something about almostanything on the Web.  My website is a great way of publicizing mybooks, and it connects me with readers in a way that was never possiblefor me before.  I’ve been able to become a book reviewer (a childhood dream) for SF Site,a big online SF/fantasy website.  The Internet has also allowed meto make a lot of professional contacts, because so many writers are online.And it’s the greatest excuse for procrastination that I’ve ever found…thoughmaybe that’s not such a good thing!

I also do volunteer work via the Internet.  I maintain a set ofwebpages at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America websitecalled Writer Beware, which provides information about literary scams.

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