Friday, March 23, 2012

Interview with a Scientist

note the goggles! love it!
That's DR Fairy Godmother to us!

I met Rena through some blogfest or maybe the insecure writer's group and she floored me with her humor and wit and story! After reading a pithy comment she left on another site, I had to ask her to sit for an interview so I could tell you all more about her. And look! She got a new picture for the occasion!

Now please allow me to introduce Rena Ford!

So, Rena, I love your bio blurb - you put your writing on hold at 17 to be a scientist and are just about a PhD? That needs elaboration!

I started out with every intention of being a writer. I wrote my first full length novel at 12—no it wasn’t very good, StarTrek fan fic—and I took writing classes by mail (I grew up in a town with 850 people in it). I even submitted stories for publication when I was 16. But I kept getting the same feedback: go live a little, then write.

That’s pretty hard advice to take as a 16 year old. I wanted to write, why couldn’t anyone just accept that? And if I was supposed to live life a little, what was I supposed to do in the mean time? Wait for life? I don’t think so. So I went with plan B. And this is how you can tell I’m an overachiever: plan B was become an astronaut. The path to astronaut was pretty simple, either join the armed forces and go as a pilot, or go the scientist route. I love science, and I’m pretty nerdy, so I figured science was a great way to go. I’m nearly done with a degree in geology with an emphasis on cosmo-chemistry (doesn’t that sound awesome? I’m not even making that up, it’ll actually say that on my degree… if I ever finish).

WOW! You want to be an astronaut! That is so science fiction!
So now that you've lived a little (ha!) How has your writing evolved from when you were younger?

You mean other than not writing StarTrek fanfic? The biggest evolution is my love affair with villains. I used to make villains a terrible monolithic evil that no one could ever triumph over, like Sauron, or the Borg. Now, I try to make my villains like normal people who have been through some bad times and made some bad choices. I know we aren’t really supposed to have sympathy for the devil, but I like to give my bad guys some redeeming qualities. I want them to be real.

That is a great way to do villains - I love a sympathetic, human villain that we can secretly root for (not to die, anyway).
The premise of your WIP is stupendous! Could you tell us about it? And what phase are you in?

Oh man, my WIP. I could seriously talk forever about that. So, I’ve been reading a lot of YA novels lately, and I kept feeling disappointed because I’m too old to get my super powers according to YA novels. If it happens to men, it can happen later in life, but if it’s a girl, pretty much teenager, or normal forever. When it does happen to men they’re either rich or mentally devastated, and the parents are never there, conveniently eliminating the need to waste valuable time and effort protecting them. I’m interested in a regular person who gets super powers. Someone who still has to explain to grandma how saving the world was more important than making it to Easter dinner, and let me tell you, my grandma would make a person feel guilty that they’d chosen world saving over Easter dinner! I like to think of the tone of my WIP as what you would get if ONE FOR THE MONEY got together with a Green Lantern comic and had kids. Here’s the query blurb:

Despite juggling a research career and children, Chrissy King feels like life has passed her by. At thirty-five she has a job, two kids, and a steadily more distant husband. When an alien detective falls out of the sky and smashes into Chrissy’s car, she has a choice: take up the job as an interstellar detective, or continue with her normal life.

Chrissy takes life by the horns and joins the interstellar detectives, the Knights of Mourning, to figure out who is murdering the Knights, starting with the one who smashed up her car. Now Chrissy has to navigate a society full of aliens, space ninjas, and celestial intelligences to find the killer, but in the real galaxy, even murders are more complicated than on TV: the murderer has started killing stars.
And Sol is next.

(I know, that ending should have a “duhn-duhn-dah” just in case a potential agent misses the drama).

I’m currently still in the drafting phase, about half way through. I started out just having fun, but I quickly realized that there was too much in my story to do it by halves. I stopped and started over again from scratch. Right now I’m about halfway through the first draft (yes, I write my query letters before I write my novels, it helps me focus).

You describe so many of us writers! I'd love to take a vacation and hunt bad guy aliens for a while - my family would probably have more respect (or fear) for me when I came back in triumph! And your query is your outline!
Your scientific thinking showed through when you gave advice on getting motivated. You called it the carrot/stick method. Please share it here! It's worth repeating!

All people are motivated by one of two things, the carrot or the stick. People can either be driven by the possibility of a reward (the carrot), or the threat of punishment (the stick). When it comes to writing, sometimes we need motivation. For the carrot method, I set a daily writing goal and I give myself a reward for making it, usually something like video game time, or a cupcake, or maybe stationary (sorry, I have a nerdy love of stationary).

If I’m sitting at the keyboard and just staring at the cursor, I give myself a time limit, either I start writing, or it’s time to go do one of the awful chores that pile up around the house. For me I use things like cleaning the litter box, scrubbing toilets, or other terrible chores to get me going. If I don’t start writing, then it’s time to clean up dog poop and scrub toilets.

The key with the carrot/stick method is follow through (yeah, it is just like raising children). But really, without follow through, you won’t take yourself seriously. If you promise yourself a carrot, be sure to make good on it. For me, I set goals on a weekly basis, and if I’ve promised myself some video game time that evening but life gets in the way, I put that time into the bank. It’s mine, I earned it just as hard as any other job, so it only seems fair that I get it.

I love stationary (it appeals to writers, too!) Perfect. Yes, follow through is key. My primary reason for not exercising...
Before we sign out, do you have any other advice for writers?

Someone asked me how long it takes to become a good writer once. I thought it was a pretty strange question for me to field because I wouldn’t consider myself good, which meant I didn’t really know. But the first thing that flashed into my mind was one of my fencing maestros from Santa Barbara. I’d been fencing there for a while, and we were having a lunging critique. He asked me “How many lunges does it take to lunge correctly?”

Me: “Um, 10,000?”

Him: “No! Tim, how many lunges does it take to get it right?”

Tim (another student): “All of them!”

And that’s just it: it takes all the words you write to be the writer you are (is that Zen enough?). If it only takes a few words for you to be the writer you want to be, then more power to you. If it’s hundreds of thousands, that’s still pretty early. Most authors will tell you that the first million words or so are complete rubbish. If that doesn’t shake a little reality out of your trees, then think about this: most of the great books I’ve read in the last year were written by authors who said “I wrote ten books before I got my agent.” So, like all the other advice about writing, just stick with it, the road is very long.

That was very deep. And so true! I would have answered that I would let them know when I got there =)

Thanks for inviting me over, Tara!

Thanks for coming, Rena! It was great getting to know you better! 

Check out her blog! And have a nice weekend/Spring Break, everyone!


mshatch said...

great interview and love the premise. I'd sure love me some superpowers even though I'm a wee bit past my teenage years!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

A Star Trek geek - she is one cool person!
Think I'm operating under the stick right now.
Good interview, ladies!

Laura Marcella said...

Awesome interview, Tara and Rena! Rena, your novel sounds SOOO good! I'm looking forward to seeing it on bookshelves some day. So keep it up and finish because you have a buyer here already!!! :)

Have a wonderful weekend, Tara and Rena!

Kelley said...

Great interview ladies!!!

Have a fantastic weekend!

Jenny S. Morris said...

I LOVE Rena's WIP idea. And I also love her humor. Great Interview!!

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Fun interview. I LOVE Rena's WIP. Yes it's unfair that older men are accepted than older women in ya/ super power stories.

Emily R. King said...

Rena's voice is fab. I like her WiP idea.
BTW, smart women are REALLY sexy. Just sayin'...

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great interview!!! Tara - I have an award for you at my blog today!

Annalisa Crawford said...

Great interview. Thanks for this.

Christine Rains said...

A fun and hilarious interview! I'm a stationary lover too. Rena's book sounds like a riot. You have to love something that comes from a mad scientist's imagination. :)

Tara Tyler said...

thanks again, Rena for letting me put you under a microscope! (you my groan)
and thank, y'all for meeting her!

Madeleine Maddocks said...

What a fab interview Tara and a great personality. Love the background to your adolescent writing too, Rena.

Morgan said...

Rena is hilarious!!!!

I love the carrot/stick method. Too fun! And Rena is so entertaining... sometimes my eyes glaze over when I'm reading interviews. Nope. Not here ;)

Thanks for the fun entertainment, Tara! :D

Mark Murata said...

Instead of using a timer, another way to start writing is to simply write the names of the main characters over and over again. Supposedly, you’ll start to write about them to break out of the tedium.

Lynda R Young said...

Great interview!
I had a similar problem when I was writing as a teen.