MeiLin kindly took time out of her busy schedule (her oldest daughter is in a college program!) to answer some rather disjointed questions from me that roughly pass as an interview. As always MeiLin’s work and more information about her are available at her website.
- Jodi: When did you first begin writing, and what inspired you to start sharing your stories?MeiLin: I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and always knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Everyone always just kind of assumed I would be, but in journalism; I was quite frankly too scared to put myself out there to write fiction, and I had this stupid idea that I couldn’t write genre even though genre is my love. A disastrous writing workshop sealed my resolve never to try fiction again.
I wrote nonfiction professionally for some 30-odd years for radio, TV and the web. I was good at it, but I’m not the greatest reporter. My favorite job was the one where I just got to write all day; I’d come in, the producers would hand me a huge stack of stories, and I’d just write my brains out for eight hours. I loved that job.
I began writing fiction seriously in late 2007. I was critically ill in 2006, and I realized it was time to face my fears before it was too late. I started writing Doctor Who/Torchwood fan fiction and discovered I was a much better fiction writer than I’d been 30 years previous. (I wonder if 30 years of writing experience had something to do with that.) After a couple of months, I decided I was done and moved on to original stuff in early 2008.
- Jodi: I’m most familiar with your Tremontine series and know that it began with Emmae and Warin’s story. What were your influences for the world building in the books?MeiLin: The main one is a dear friend named Manoki, who’s a sociologist. I wrote a very rough version of Warin and Emmae’s story as a simple naughty fairy tale, and she BOMBARDED me with questions about their world. To my amazement, I knew the answers. She’s one of my beta readers to this day and still bombards me with questions. (I dedicated The Machine God to her.) Tremont is part Victorian England and part Imperial Rome. When I’m world building, I start there.
- Jodi: Which of your short stories or serials would you recommend to a new reader and why?MeiLin: It depends on the reader. “Scryer’s Gulch” is just goofy fun, a fantasy Western soap opera that I describe as one part Deadwood, one part Dark Shadows, one part Wild Wild West and one part Days of Our Lives. It’s a collection of 53 serial episodes, all first draft/last draft–no rewriting. It was originally a webserial, and I posted it as I wrote it. I only have one standalone short out right now, the very serious “Dalston Junction,” which starts out looking like a rather grisly Victorian melodrama but turns out to be something quite different.
And then there are the Aria Afton Presents erotic fantasy romance novellas. Quite, quite silly, but with hot sex.
- Jodi: What are your favourite and least favourite parts of being an indie writer? Why did you choose to go indie vs. trying to obtain a contract with a publisher?MeiLin: I chose to go indie because we didn’t know how long I had to live. I didn’t have years to find an agent, years for the agent to find a publisher, years for the publisher to put the book out–if the editor didn’t get canned and all her projects with her. So I just figured I’d do it myself. And I have too many friends with book deals who’ve gotten royally screwed. If I have to do all my own marketing anyway, I may as well keep the royalties. As things turned out, it looks like I’m going to live, but I’m still committed to publishing my novels myself. Right now my strategy is “shorts out, novels in.”
My least favorite part is the marketing. It’s really difficult. I still haven’t found what works for me. I just keep plugging away.
- Jodi: You have a short story in the upcoming Allegories of the Tarot anthology. Which card did you write about? Did you get to choose your card? If so why did you pick that one?MeiLin: My card is the Wheel of Fortune, and no, I didn’t get to pick it–luck of the draw. (See what I did there?) It was fun; I rather enjoy writing “to order,” where someone gives you a topic and says, I need this, go!
- Jodi: When you’re not writing what hobbies or geeky activities do you like to participate in?MeiLin: I count reading as part of my job or I’d say that. I spin yarn, I knit and do a bunch of other needlecrafts, I write Night Vale role-playing stuff on tumblr (some friends and I are Night Vale’s mandatory cable provider). I like to pickle stuff. I watch a little TV; I don’t have time for much. I like webcomics and am constantly stealing Josie’s comics, especially her Matt Fraction Hawkeyes; I’ve been a comics nerd since I could read, and I’ve given birth to not one but two talented comics creators. When I’m not deconditioned, which I am right now, I bellydance and ride a cargo bike, though not at the same time. I’m also a homeschooling mom.
- Jodi: . I have to ask. Your daughters are Josie and Louisa. Are their names inspired by Little Women or just coincidence?MeiLin: Yes and no. Josie is named after my great-grandmother, Jo March of Little Women, and Josie and the Pussycats. I named my future daughter when I was eight, and luckily married a man who liked the name, not that I gave him much of a choice. LouLou was named after my husband’s grandmother. Lou’s middle name is from the little sister in My Neighbor Totoro, a movie that went on to have great, great significance to our family (my girls were the same ages as the girls in the movie when I nearly died, just like the mother in the film). It was only later that we realized we’d named her Louisa Mei.
All that said, Alcott is a big influence on me, so I’m completely unsurprised my girls turned out to be Josie and Louisa.
- Jodi: What advice would you give to an unpublished writer trying to break into the market?Oh good grief, I’m still breaking into the market myself, or at least it feels like it! In many ways this is the best time to be a writer in history; you have complete control over your product if you want it. But you have little control over whether you find your audience. There are things you can do that help, but nothing in the least bit guaranteed. It’s much easier if you write quickly and in popular genres.
Sadly for me, I am a slow writer–at least in plotting and pondering, I usually get the words themselves down fairly quickly–and the History books are unusual. They’ve got a lot of sex but it’s unflinching and realistic so they’re not necessarily erotica. They’re fantasy, but there are no elves or dragons. They’re quasi-19th century, but they’re not steampunk. I have yet to figure out exactly what they *are* not just what they’re not.
My advice: read. A lot. Spend way way more time reading fiction than reading about writing. Write what you love and write whether you feel like it or not. Figure out your best times and settings for writing. Me, it’s between 8 am and 2 pm, with a particular white noise track in my headphones. Study the markets, see what readers are buying and if you can give them something in that genre. Figure out which projects are best suited for submission and which for self-publishing. Hang out in the Writers Cafe at KBoards.com; it’s where the serious, experienced indies are. If you go indie, invest in an editor and professional cover art. Pray a lot, because no matter how hard you work, and this is hard work, luck is a big part of success as a writer.