Friday 8 January 2010

Margaret Ronald - Author Interview

Novels: Spiral Hunt
Wild Hunt

She has also published numerous short stories.


Pitch the first novel of your series.

Spiral Hunt follows Evie Scelan, a bike messenger and Red Sox fan, as she navigates her way through the magical undercurrent of Boston and attempts to evade the still-powerful remnants of an organization that once ran the undercurrent. Wild Hunt, its sequel, explores the consequences of Evie's acts, the current power vacuum in the undercurrent, and those who seek to exploit or protect it.

What made you want to be a writer?

There's an anecdote that some members of my family tell: a relative, sick of how the conversation had been bouncing back and forth from one convoluted tale to another, remarked with disgust, "You Ronalds! You don't talk, you just tell stories!"

Well, it's true, and I'm no different. I told stories to my stuffed animals as a child, made up new ones, added on to old ones . . . bit by bit, that desire crystallized into a need to invite people into these new worlds I've created.

In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

I love writing in Evie's voice. She's a fun character, and someone who I think I'd like sitting down with for a little while. In terms of minor characters, the Reverend Woodfin was also a lot of fun to write, to the point where I'd let him ramble on for far too long and then have to cut the scene to fit. And one of the villains for Spiral Hunt was unsettlingly easy to write. But I really enjoy spending time with any of my characters; that's part of how I can tell I've made them interesting enough.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Probably not. I do horrible things to my characters, after all, and I don't like to think about what they'd do to me in revenge.

If you could live in your fantasy world, would you?

I don't think I would. There's much about it that's similar to the Boston area I already live in, but the undercurrent I've constructed is not a friendly place; it's too tarnished and paranoid.

What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

I wrote one in seventh grade, but as far as I'm concerned that doesn't count. Nor does the clumsy fantasy epic I wrote the year after that.

It took me a little over three years to write Spiral Hunt, partly because I was still figuring out how a novel should go. It's one thing to say "just write the story as it occurs to you" but there's a lot more to consider than just what to say. Pacing, plot, characterization . . . I was still learning how to use all of them at once. Some days I think I still am.

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

Strangely enough, some of the scenes that I labored on and sweated over in one draft got cut in the next. That's how it goes with revision, but it's still a little annoying to put in so much work and then realize it had no place in the story.

I do remember having a lot of trouble writing a scene where a very young character is in immediate danger. I was composing the scene from scratch and found myself trying to rush through it just so I could make sure the character was okay. Which is very strange, because I'd planned the scene that way to begin with, so I knew it would end fine -- I just felt very uncomfortable writing that particular moment. Revising it was fine, though.

What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan?

"Do you know anyone famous?" was probably the strangest question I've ever got, so that's pretty tame. (And the answer's no, not really.)

What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

Definitely WisCon. It's fun, thought-provoking,'s as if someone took all the things that I enjoy about conventions and packaged them all together in one.

If you still have one, what’s your day job?

I work for a large mutual fund company, laying out shareholder reports and prospectuses. It's exactly as exciting as it sounds.

What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing?

I have a B.A. in English from Williams College. It's helped somewhat, in the sense that I'm aware of certain trends or subtexts as I'm writing. I think it mostly helped to instill the sense of discipline that's necessary to finish a work. The smaller classes -- particularly a science fiction writing course taught by Paul Park -- were more directly useful.

Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

It depends on the writer. For me, fantasy is easier just because that's a genre I feel at home in; even my science fiction stories tend to be fantasy wearing a science fiction hat.

When and where do you write?

Mornings, before I go in to my day job. I make a cup of coffee, stay off the internet (as much as I can!) and settle in for an hour before getting dressed and catching the bus. I write in a little closet of a room that my husband and I have turned into a study of sorts. From here I can either work or watch the traffic go by, or both at the same time.

What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The worst thing is knowing that no matter how good a book ends up being, it'll only bear a superficial resemblance to that original, shining idea. The best part is when you reread your work and realize that yes, this came very close to the idea -- or that it even topped the original idea. (A close second is working out plot and finding the one element that makes everything else click into place. It's immensely satisfying, like finishing a puzzle in six dimensions at once.)

What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

I didn't realize how much work there is between turning in the manuscript and having the book on the shelf. It sounds silly now -- there's a lot more to publishing than magical manuscript fairies who turn a stack of pages into a cogent, well-crafted book -- but I was a bit astonished at how much work was still to be done at every stage of the process.

Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Write, and write, and write again. Revise, revise, and revise again. Don't be afraid of criticism; even if you disagree with it, it's got something to say about your work, and it will help. Send your stories out and keep sending them out, and keep writing so you'll have something new to send out when an editor says "this one isn't right for us, but send more."

Any tips against writers block?

Keep writing, even if you feel uninspired. Play with new ideas, take your characters in a new direction, anything you like -- just keep writing, so that when inspiration does come creeping in around the edges of things, you'll be ready for it.

How do you discipline yourself to write?

Coffee, usually. Ideally, I try to have something written or revised every morning before I go to work. This way, no matter how the rest of the day goes, I've accomplished something worthwhile.

How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

I'm not sure, but I was well over one hundred rejection letters by the time I sold my first story. They weren't all for the same story, though. It took me almost a year and a half to find an agent for Spiral Hunt, and I'm very fortunate that my agent eventually took me on.

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