I’m thrilled to have Maria V. Snyder for our next Author Interview! Maria was one of my favorite “new” writers (or rather, new to me) of last year, and her debut novel Poison Study ended up at #2 on my 10 Favorite Reads of 2014 list. Besides Poison Study, I gobbled up the rest of her Study Series (Magic Study and Fire Study), which follows poison taster / magician / diplomat Yelena Zaltana as she confronts her past, learns about her magical powers, and kicks some serious butt. Next week, Maria releases her thirteenth novel, Shadow Study – which means Yelena and her assassin-spy soulmate Valek are back for more adventures! Plus, as you may have noticed from the title, we have a very special contest at the end of this article!
So, read on to learn more about Shadow Study, how it’s different from Maria’s previous Study novels, and a few things about Maria herself, including her writing influences, her favorite literary heroines, and what she’d do – or avoid doing – if she ever visited Yelena’s world. Also, if you’re interested, come back on Monday, February 23rd for my review of Shadow Study!
Q&A with Maria V. Snyder
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Shadow Study! Fans have been thrilled since you announced that Yelena and Valek would return for not only one book, but a brand new trilogy. How excited are you to reveal the next chapter in their adventures?
Maria: I’m very excited! My readers have been asking me since Fire Study hit the shelves to write more books about Yelena and Valek, but I’d been with them for ten years and needed a break. Then I needed a good idea for a plo,t or else they would spend the entire book sitting on the beach getting a tan. 🙂 I’m really anxious to hear what my readers have to say about the new story!
Could you tells us a little about Shadow Study in your own words and how it differs from your previous Study novels? I’m not necessarily asking for spoilers, but… 😉
Maria: But…you are. 😉 The biggest difference is that there are chapters from both Yelena’s and Valek’s POVs, with smaller scenes from Janco’s POV interspersed. The characters are also a little older and wiser. I also had to do something rather drastic about Yelena. She’s rather powerful, and it was hard to find an antagonist that posed a threat to her, so… you find out pretty quick someone or something has blocked her magic. Yelena is determined to figure out how to un-block it, but that’s not her only problem. Ben Moon has escaped from prison and is after her. No, you haven’t read about Ben before. In my short story, Ice Study, you meet his brother Owen Moon. Well, things didn’t end well for Owen, and Ben tried to kill Yelena. Ben was caught and sent to Wirral Prison. Ice Study is sort of a prequel to Shadow Study. The story was taken down from my website so I could expand it to show Ben’s attack and a few other scenes. The revised version should be up by the time Shadow Study is released.
Shadow Study is your first Study novel with multiple POVs (Yelena, Valek, and Janco), as opposed to only Yelena’s. Why the change in narration style? And, did you find it challenging / refreshing / etc.?
Maria: I added Valek’s POV because I really wanted to show his past and his thoughts. I’d wrote a couple short stories with his POV and enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes. It was harder to write his chapters because they are written in third person POV, and I didn’t want him to lose that mystery and cocky confidence everyone loves. I think it was a hard balance to write his scenes, and I hope I showed that while he has doubts and worries, he’s very confident in his abilities and love. As for Janco, he’s a blast to write! I have such fun with him and, for Shadow Study, I needed to show what he was doing since he wasn’t with Yelena and Valek all the time. One thing I don’t do with multiple POVs is to write the same scene from each character’s POV. If Yelena and Valek are together, you’ll just get one narrator for that part.
The one thing I’m looking forward to most about Shadow Study is learning more about Valek’s past. We get glimpses of it in the original trilogy. This time, it sounds like we’ll get more insight into his pre-Poison Study life. What questions did you ask yourself while writing the new book and exploring Valek’s background? In other words, what were you most interested in discovering about him?
Maria: I really wanted to explore how he transformed from a young, innocent teenage boy to an assassin. His flashbacks start with him searching for a teacher or school to train him how to kill. He finds the School of Night and Shadows and spends two years learning how to be an assassin. Then you see him go after the men who murdered his brothers, meeting the Commander, and then his mission to kill the king. To write all these scenes, I had to figure out his childhood. his brothers’ personalities, and his parents and how they reacted to the deaths of their sons.
Among your fans, Yelena and Valek continue to be your two most popular characters, as well as your most popular couple. Why do you think this is the case? What about Yelena, Valek, and their relationship still appeals to readers after several years?
Maria: I’m not quite sure why. I think they have a great relationship built on time spent together, and it wasn’t “insta-love.” Both are intelligent and have a sense of humor. They’re partners – one doesn’t dominate the other. What do you think? How about your readers? Anyone have any idea why they are so popular?
[Editor’s Note: Personally, I like Valek and Yelena’s relationship because they treat each other as equals (which you mentioned) and aren’t afraid to show their less favorable sides to one another. Another point you made that I appreciate about their relationship is that it was a “slow build,” developed over time through trust, respect, and communication. That’s my answer. How about everyone else?]
You’re a “hands-on” researcher when you write new books, learning skills like horseback riding, karate, and glass-blowing to become more familiar with your characters’ abilities. Did you learn any new skills while writing Shadow Study or preparing for the next two Study novels?
Maria: Unfortunately, this time around all my research has been from books or the internet (boring, I know!). I’ve been learning about plants and grafting techniques. I also had to re-read all the Study and Glass books so I remembered what happened and who was who!
Here’s one question I enjoy asking speculative fiction writers about the worlds they create: If you could actually visit Ixia and/or Sitia, what would you do – or avoid doing – while there?
Maria: I’d love to just sight-see – visit places like the Zaltana Homestead in the Illiais Jungle’s treetops, the Cliffs, the Citadel, the Magician’s Keep, the Commander’s castle, Valek’s suite, Opal’s glass factory, etc. I’d like to meet everyone and maybe go on a secret mission. I’d avoid pissing off the Commander, eating criollo, and sparring with Ari and Janco. 🙂
Your work differs from typical fantasy literature in that it’s driven more by the characters than by plot or world-building. Was this a conscious decision, or does your writing naturally flow in that direction?
Maria: I do focus on the characters, but I’m not sure if it ever was a conscious decision or just how my writing flowed. First-person POV puts the reader in the character’s head, and what she sees, hears, smells, feels is all relayed back to the reader. In that case, the world-building and plot are all shown through the main protagonist. I also didn’t want to weigh my story down with a ton of details and description about the world’s politics, history, etc. I wanted an action-packed story that was hard to put down. And from the emails I’ve gotten at 2 a.m., I think I succeeded with that one. 😉
I like how your female protagonists in general are well-rounded and flawed, with strengths and skills they use to solve the issues at hand. Who are some your favorite literary heroines of all-time, and why?
Maria: It all started with Nancy Drew. 🙂 She was smart and independent and a snazzy dresser. I wanted to solve crimes and date Ned. Then came Charlie’s Angels (they’re literary… right?) – loved that show! As for others, Lessa from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series, Gil Patterson from Barbara Hambly’s Time of the Dark series, and Tess Soerensen from Kate Elliott’s Jaran. They, too are intelligent, resourceful, and stubborn women – hmmm…very much like all my main protagonists.
Who are some of your favorite or most influential authors? (I was looking for a list or interview response while researching questions to ask you, but I couldn’t find any!)
Maria: As you can guess from the previous question, I love Anne McCaffrey, Barbara Hambly, Kate Elliott, and Sheri S. Tepper – they’re the authors I discovered in the 80s and 90s. More recent authors that I enjoy are Gail Carriger, Ilona Andrews, Harlan Coben, and Laura Griffen. As for the author that had the most influence on my writing, I have to credit Dick Francis, the British mystery author. I picked first-person point of view because of his books and, also like him, I keep the story’s pace moving. My cliffhanger endings at the end of each chapter are a direct result from his books; I could never stop reading one of his books at a chapter break, so I emulated his structure. I’ve heard a quote somewhere that good writers borrow, but great writers steal. 😉
I read somewhere that you’re a fan of tea! Being a tea lover myself and a tea reviewer, I get just a teensy bit excited when I find other writers who also enjoy it. What kind(s) of tea do you like?
Maria: I like my tea like I like my men – strong! My favorite is English Breakfast – I drink that every day and then make a pot of decaffeinated English Breakfast to have while I’m writing at night. No milk or sugar or lemon in my tea, either – I’m a purist! I also drink Chai, Darjeeling, Irish Breakfast, and the regular Lipton black tea. I’m not too crazy about the herbal varieties, probably because they’re too weak, but every so often I’ll drink a lemon or mint just for something different.
Next up for you is Night Study as well as a sixth Study novel. How are things progressing with Night Study? And, any ideas for a possible title for Book #6?
Maria: Night Study is almost finished…well, the first draft. I need to figure out the ending and when I was too busy to write over the holidays, gremlins did NOT come and finish it for me. The nerve of them! 😉 Once done, it will go through a couple revisions before it’s published. As for #6 – I’m thinking of a title that is a little more upbeat. Since Shadow and Night are so… well, dark, I’m leaning toward something like Dawn Study or Daylight Study.
[Editor’s Note: Maria has since announced that the sixth novel in the Study series will be titled Dawn Study.]
I’m sure you’re asked this question often, but what one piece of advice would you give to other writers who are working on their manuscripts and haven’t been published yet?
Maria: Persistence is key! Keep writing until you reach those two magic words – the end. Revise and seek advice from someone who is impartial and knows what they’re doing. Don’t think it’s ever going to be perfect, because it’s not. If you want to be traditionally published, then keep sending it out until you’ve run out of places to send it to all the while you’re working on the next novel. I also have a number of writing advice articles on my website that can be found here.
Thanks very much for stopping by, Maria! I appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions.
Maria: Thank you for inviting me to your blog and asking these great questions! If your readers would like more info about me and my books, I have the first chapter of all my books on my website as well as a number of free short stories (including ones with Yelena and Valek) they can read. I’m also on Facebook here.
Maria V. Snyder’s Final Fast Five
- Last Book She Read: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews
- One Book That Changed Her Life: Fredrick by Leo Lionni (where I learned storytellers have a place in society!)
- One Skill She Hasn’t Researched Yet for a Novel and Would Love to Try Someday: Pottery
- Random Object We’d Find at Her Writing Desk / Space: A bobble-headed Clifford the Big Red Dog, and a number of other toys
- Three Things She Can’t Live Without: Tea, Advil, and my iPad!
About Maria V. Snyder: Maria V. Snyder switched careers from meteorologist to novelist when she began writing the New York Times best-selling Study Series (Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study) about a young woman who becomes a poison taster. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, Maria dreamed of chasing tornados and even earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Meteorology from Pennsylvania State University. Unfortunately, she lacked the necessary forecasting skills. So, she worked as an environmental meteorologist until boredom and children drove her to write down the stories that have been swirling around in her head. Writing proved to be more enjoyable than meteorology, and Maria returned to school to earn a Master of Arts degree in fiction writing from Seton Hill University. Unable to part company with Seton Hill and its wonderful writing program, Maria is currently a teacher and mentor for the MFA program. Shadow Study is her thirteenth novel.
SHADOW STUDY GIVEAWAY!
Maria has graciously offered one signed U.S. copy of Shadow Study for me to give away to a lucky reader! This giveaway is international, so everyone is eligible to participate.
Here are some rules for the giveaway:
- Click the Shadow Study cover above to access the Rafflecopter widget. Then, follow Rafflecopter’s instructions to earn points for different activities (commenting on this article, sharing the giveaway, etc.).
- The giveaway will be open through midnight EST on Wednesday, March 4th. No entries will be accepted beyond the deadline.
- Once selected, the winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email and provide their full name and mailing address so I can share it with Maria. Please note that I value your privacy and will not share your information with anyone except the author.
- I will be checking all entries during the giveaway – so, no cheating please.
- Feel free to share and reblog this article to spread the word!
Many thanks again to Maria for the interview and the giveaway – and good luck to all the participants!