Author Interview on Catching that Golden Snitch
This #MondayMotivation I have the supreme honor to introduce you to an author from the US who’s written a book based in my homeland of South Africa. She reached out to me via my blog after having read through some of my posts. She’d been looking for cultural feedback on her upcoming book THE PREY OF GODS. I’m so jazzed to have met her, this interview has certainly been a highlight for me and it has taught me a great many things along the way. This post,in hope, will be a beacon for everyone in pursuit of their dreams. To realize in a shining blaze of example, that ALL things are possible. You need only to Believe again.
Nicky Drayden is a Systems Analyst who dabbles in prose when she’s not buried in code. She resides in Austin, Texas where being weird is highly encouraged, if not required. She’s the author of over 30 published short stories and also serves as the Special Anthologies editor for The Drabblecast, a speculative fiction podcast. Her debut novel THE PREY OF GODS is scheduled for release Summer 2017, from Harper Voyager.
- Thesaurasaurus: A species of dinosaur who survived all of the extinction level events, only to be done in by the stress of making up new words.
Let’s get personal:
- How long have you been writing for?
- What inspires you most to write?
- The Big Debate of Traditional Vs. Self-Publishing. What made you choose one against the other?
Is there a debate? I went the traditional route with THE PREY OF GODS, but I’ve self-published several collections of short stories as well in my Delightfully Twisted Tales series. There’s value in both, as long as you maintain professionalism and manage your expectations. I’m hoping that people who’ve enjoyed my short stories will want to read my novel when it comes out. (And vice versa.)
- What would be the ultimate goal for you to achieve as a writer?
My ultimate goal is to have a reader both laugh out loud and shed a tear of sadness within the same chapter. (Preferably on the same page.) The thought of my words causing an actual physical reaction within someone thrills me.
- Tell me about your support structure. Who’s on board with you being an author, who doubted you?
I have an incredible support network of friends and family. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with any naysayers since I don’t tend to keep those types of people around me. My parents have always been there to encourage my writing and are eager to read my stories (except my dad won’t read the ones with sad endings.) Early on I had a great writing mentor, Richard, who taught me a lot about the technical aspects of writing and about how the industry works. I’ve also surrounded myself with a whole assortment of amazing fellow writers through NaNoWriMo events, local and virtual writer’s groups, conventions, and writing workshops.
- Walk me through your process of submissions in your search for an agent/publisher.
THE PREY OF GODS took about 9 months to write and revise. I’d queried a different novel previously, with a full manuscript request but no bites, so I knew the process fairly well. A lot of nail biting and self-doubt. And waiting. For this novel, I queried around 25 agents in batches of 5 or so, sent out a week apart. I divided my list into an A-list consisting my top five dream agents that I thought I had no chance of landing, my B-list of respectable and well-established agents, and a C-list of agents that were newer, had a few sales under their belt, and looked promising. When I sent out my batches, I made sure that there were a few agents from each list so I didn’t immediately blow my chances with my A-list agents in case my query wasn’t working.
A couple weeks after I started sending out my queries, I got a request from Jennifer Jackson at the Donald Maass Agency for the first 100 pages. She was definitely on my A-list, but I managed to play it cool and not write any mushy, embarrassing things when I emailed her back. A couple months later, she asked to see the entire manuscript. A few more months went by, and she asked for revisions. I don’t think there was enough room on my face for my smile to fit at this point. I’d never gotten this far in the process before, and in my mind, an agent putting the effort into asking for specific revisions meant something very positive. You try to tell yourself not to get your hopes up, but my hopes were definitely up.
Then, a few months later, I got THE CALL. Jennifer was interested in representing me, and we had a nice chat about the book and our visions for it. At least, I think we did. My head was spinning the entire time, and it was all very surreal. After I hung up the phone, there was dancing involved. And probably chocolate.
- Rejection letters play a frequent role in any writer’s life during the submission process. How did it feel getting them? What kept you motivated throughout it all?
Ah, the sweet sting of rejection. They’re like paper cuts—they hurt like hell, but then you forget about them a few minutes later and send out another query, another short story submission, get back to your current work-in-progress, what-have-you. According to the Submissions Grinder, I’ve had 334 rejections for short stories since I started submitting in 2008, which is a lot, but I’ve also had 37 acceptances, which is also kind of a lot. I’ve got around 60 query rejections, a few partial and full manuscript rejections, but if I hadn’t suffered through those cuts, I wouldn’t have a book deal right now. If you’re not getting rejections, you’re not playing the game.
- Felicidades épicas. You’ve been published! Talk to me about that day, receiving the email/call. How did it feel? And What have you done to celebrate since?
Remember what I said about waiting? I began querying in September of 2010, and signed with Jennifer in December 2011. She started submitting THE PREY OF GODS to editors early in 2012. There was interest in the novel early on, and I even talked to an editor at some point, but things fell through, and then there was radio silence for a loooonnnngggg time. Nearly four years of it, but while many agents would have given up after 1 year, and probably most would have given up by year 3, Jennifer kept pushing, kept looking for new opportunities, doing unimaginable amounts of work behind the scenes. Last fall, she told me an editor at Harper Voyager was interested, and next thing I knew I was talking to David Pomerico on the phone, listening to him gush about the novel and his ideas for it. It’s so cool to hear your writing and characters talked about with such enthusiasm. The conversation went really well, and our visions for the book fit together nicely. The next day, he made an offer for THE PREY OF GODS plus another yet to be named book. Suddenly, it felt like everything was happening so fast!
To celebrate, I bought myself a Vitamix blender, one of those fancy high powered ones that’ll grind down anything. I’d been wanting one FOREVER. Like probably as long as I’ve been writing. It’s as awesome as I thought it would be. I also cut my hours at my day job (just told my boss today!) so I’ll have more time to write. That was a super scary thing to do. I’m still trying to come to terms with my writing no longer being a hobby.
- Walk me through the process from that email to getting the final book signed off for release.
So after the contract was agreed upon and signed, David, my editor (it feels so cool to say that!), gave me some notes with suggestions on how to make the story stronger and areas that needed to be smoothed out. Plus he’s big on the mechanics of magic systems, so he encouraged me to define how mine worked to make sure there weren’t any unintentional discrepancies within the story. The revisions he wanted were pretty minor, but since I’d written the story nearly 7 years ago, I had some things I wanted to change, too. However, I didn’t want to change too much, since he already loved the story, but I got a chance to hone some parts to better reflect where I am as a writer now. Plus, I only had about five weeks to get everything shined and polished, and I definitely didn’t want to miss my first writing deadline.
I also figured that this was the time to get some real live beta readers from South Africa to make sure I didn’t get everything totally and completely wrong. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback over the years, so I’m used to the critique process, but I can tell you I’ve never been so nervous as I was to put this novel in front of those beta readers. Writing about cultures and experiences that aren’t my own, I knew I had a lot of blind spots, but even just the act of asking someone to read the novel made me more reflective of what I was intentionally or unintentionally saying. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but I definitely had some big goofs I had to fix with names being off and locations being wrong, and I had to reconsider how to represent some sensitive topics. The biggest gain I got from my beta readers was the amount of suggestions they gave me to make the world richer, stuff I would never have thought up on my own—which led to little details like artisans selling miniature robots made from recycled Fanta cans and my characters eating pap en vleis instead of generic soup. The story has a lot more texture now, and I’m truly grateful for my beta readers’ help and honesty.
I turned in my revisions on time (yay), and about a week later, I got more edits back from David, really minor stuff. I fixed those and sent them back in, and that’s where we are so far. More waiting! It’ll be about a year and a half total between when I got the offer and when the book comes out, but having deadlines is definitely making the time fly by. In the meantime, David had me make a Pinterest board of images I thought would make for a good cover, so that’s been fun. (You can check them out here.) Plus, I’ve got Book II (also set in South Africa, but unrelated) to edit, so it’s not like I don’t have enough to keep me busy.
Tips & Tricks:
- Do you have any great writing resources that you can share with us?
One of my favorite writing rituals happens after I’ve finished my first draft. I don’t outline typically, so I get to know my characters and story as I’m writing it. To get a deeper understanding of my characters before I revise, I turn to astrology, particularly this awesome book: The New Astrology: A Unique Synthesis of the World’s Two Great Astrological Systems: The Chinese and Western a special little cheat that my old writing coach Richard introduced me to. It contains insightful descriptions of all of the Chinese zodiac signs, plus all of the Western ones, then goes one step further and combines them for a total of 144 unique combinations…combinations that make great well-rounded characters with little to no effort!
Then I look through the lists of character traits for both the Chinese and Western zodiacs and find the ones that closely match each main character. I pick the best from each astrology system, find where they intersect, and voila! Each entry gives me several pages of material, including a generous list of character strengths, weaknesses, and quirks right there on the page. It also goes into detail about what professions suit the character, which signs they’re romantically compatible with, and what their family life is like.
I pick and choose from these little gems to backfill my story, and with a few carefully placed details, the characters come to life and jump off the page. So that’s my big characterization secret. If I were to have only one book in my reference library, this one would definitely be it!
- What would you say to other aspiring writers out there?
Patience and Optimism are your two best friends. You can do it. It will happen. Keep writing and reading and learning about the world and about yourself, and when opportunity knocks, be brave enough to answer the door.
- If there was just one nugget of wisdom you could share, what would that be?
I have a short story I wrote recently about an El Salvadoran debt collector living in Manhattan with a Puerto Rican husband who ends up growing a rat tail. I was pretty much deficient on general knowledge of all these things. I could have easily written the story about a black girl working in IT in Austin (basically Mary Sue) whose husband grew a rat tail, and saved myself some 20 hours of researching several cultures, studying debt collector slang, learning about subway routes, finding the apartment they lived in on google maps, the library they’d go to, and the restaurants they’d eat at. But for me, those hours spent researching — which I could have used to write a whole-nother story, maybe two — were important to me, because they expanded my knowledge and my reach as a writer. By the end of the story, I felt that I could confidently navigate Manhattan and know how to catch a train and not look like a total tourist…Of course, I probably couldn’t, but I felt that way. And I KNOW I still got stuff wrong, but it’s my story, and I’ll stand up for it, because I owe my characters that. You’ll mess up, too, but that’s okay. You’ll also get to grow as a writer and as a person if you keep challenging yourself.
Also, BETA readers. Find some good ones, and be kind to them.
THE PREY OF GODS started as my National Novel Writing Month project way back in 2009. It’s a near future thriller set in South Africa, and features a diverse set of characters who discover they have special godlike powers and must team up against a disenfranchised demigoddess who’s intent on remaking their world. The main characters include a wayward teen whose grandfather is pressuring him into ritual circumcision, a neglected township girl who’s discovered she can fly, a robot on the cusp of sentience, plus a cross-dressing politician, and a raunchy pop diva who all find that they are not the people they thought themselves to be.
The initial concept came to me after reading Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, which is set in a futuristic India. I’d been to Port Elizabeth, South Africa back when I was in college, and I thought it’d be interesting to imagine how the experiences I had there could translate into a work of speculative fiction. Many of the highlights from my visit are featured in the book, for example, we toured some of the rural townships where people live in tin shanties, met teenaged boys who had recently gone through the circumcision rite, and visited a couple wildlife preserves. And it seemed like everywhere we went, there were these little cute antelopes called dik-diks rummaging around the city, kind of in a similar way some places have deer overpopulation problems, so those things all got worked into the book. It was a lot of fun to relive my memories through my writing and to project how South Africa’s unique challenges and strengths would intersect with technological and scientific advancements over the next fifty years.
THE PREY OF GODS is scheduled for release, the Summer of 2017, so mark your calendars from now.
If you’d like to get to know Nicky’s awesome style while you wait, here is a great purchase waiting for you on Amazon. Happy reading.
Next up is for all our fellow Authors, Nicky will be graciously doing a Critique for the Lucky chucky Winner. The Winner will have their pick of critique at either their Query Letter or First Ten Pages of their Novel Or A Short Story Under 3000 Words.