Which comes first, the story, the characters, or the setting?
It’s been different every time. Olivia drove the story of my regency, A Note of Scandal: What could she be brilliant at but unable to take credit for? The contemporary-set Babysitting the Billionaire grew out of a visit to the Building Museum in DC, seeing them prepping for a big party and wondering who would be attending. As for my big historical, An Untitled Lady, a mass protest in 1819 (30,000 people!) was the first bit, and I had to ask myself: Who would be right in the middle of that action and yet still able to see it from many angles?
What do you read for pleasure?
Everything, and often in waves. Lately I've been on a hard science fiction kick; before that it was fantasy, and before that contemporary erotica. I read a lot of history, science, and social-issues reporting for research and for pleasure (or outrage). Current fiction faves are Mary Doria Russell, Carla Kelly, David Mitchell, Ursula Le Guin, Rose Lerner.
Describe your desk.
I work at two jobs (fiction writer and webmaster for a science foundation) from one little home office room. It’s important to me to keep them separate, so I have two desks and computers and two bulletin boards. When I sit in my writing chair, my back is to the science desk, and when I stand at my science desk I can’t see my messy manuscript pages or the faces and places I’ve posted on the writing bulletin board.
How long did it take you to write & finalize A Note of Scandal?
In the real world, five years; in writing time about two years. It was my NaNoWriMo project in 2007, but I finished up another project before I started editing. Then I let it rest and did a third project before I returned to Scandal to do the second edit. I submitted it to a publisher in 2010 and it was rejected, but with really detailed notes, so I did a third edit based on the notes. By that time that editor had left the publishing house, and I wasn’t interested in the house without her, so I submitted to Evernight, and the editors there loved it.
What do your fans mean to you?
Everything! Their comments help me keep going, especially when I fall into a low mood. Comments also help me decide which story to tell next; for example, my sisters-in-law love to read romance but prefer contemporaries, and kept telling me so, and look what happened.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I have a full-time job writing and web-wrangling for a foundation that promotes awareness and research in brain science, so I get to chat with scientists and learn new stuff every day. I write evenings and weekends, and try to do one big travel adventure every two years. Last year, I went to Patagonia; two years ago I spent a month in Spain; and I've traveled in Japan, China, Bolivia, Peru. If I can, I like to travel to the places I'll write about, like London, Plymouth, and Manchester in England. Part of the Spain trip was researching the west coast and the town of A Coruña for the story I'm working on now.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don't remember the first--my mom taught me to read really early, partly so I could entertain myself while she did her graduate work. The story that had the strongest impact on me was in a third-grade reader, one of those anthologies with lots of different stories; I think the book was called "Mysterious Wisteria" and of course I had to go look up what wisteria was. I read all the time, but it was more a case of exercising my mind; this was the first story that touched my heart.
The story, "The Smallest Dragonboy," featured a young boy considered by some too weak and small to be among the children who got to go to the dragon-egg fields and get chosen by a dragon to be their rider/partner. The boy sneaks onto the grounds, and it turns out he's not "not enough," he's perfect.
In third grade, I paid no attention to author's names, and as the story was mixed in with so many others I probably didn't even learn it. When I found another story like it, during my SFF binge in middle school, I couldn't believe my luck, and I learned the author's name, Anne McCaffrey, and that she had a whole bunch of books set in and around Pern (The Dragonriders of Pern). I read every Pern book in our town library and the county library.
I remember tiring of the books in high school, but never of this story, and I've told its plot to at least a half-dozen people over the years. Thank you, anonymous anthologist, for including fantasy in an elementary-school reader, and especially for choosing this one.
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