Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, M. Raiya.
You’re very welcome. Thank you for asking them.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’ve always lived in Vermont. I grew up in a house my father built next to a farm that has been in my family for six generations, near the shore of Lake Champlain. My father is a naturalist and my mother is a poet, so nature and writing just soaked into my soul from the beginning. I majored in writing in college and then got my master’s in English, and I work as a writing tutor in the special education department in the same high school I graduated from. I’m married, with a daughter in college and another in high school.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
Well, I wrote my first book in fifth grade, and it’s not published yet. It was part of a long fantasy saga in the vein of Tolkien, and it’s still going in a weird, vine-like way, growing and weaving in and out of all my projects in some shape or other.
When did you start writing m/m romance? What about this genre interested you the most?
I started writing m/m twenty years ago when the main character in my massive saga fell in love with a stranger who happened to be male, too. I had no idea he was going to do that, but he was very insistent, and when I took a hard look back at his past, I finally understood why he’d not been interested in any of the ladies I’d been putting in his path. He came out first, and dragged me somewhat reluctantly in his wake.
How long did it take you to get published? How many books have you written thus far?
Well, I started publishing in college, literary type stories in the college review, and then I had a fantasy story taken by a small magazine, but I wanted more than anything to publish a novel. Even though I had completed at least half a dozen, no one was interested. So one night I was surfing around on the web and ran across the blog of a woman who published m/m with Torquere (I have no idea now which author it was, but I’m forever grateful to her) and I checked out Torquere’s website. When I saw that they published novelettes, I suddenly remembered a really bizarre piece I’d written just for fun about three years before, kind of letting my imagination go wild and crazy and seeing what I could come up with. I dug around in my files, found it, fluffed it up a bit, and subbed it to Torquere. Then I went back to the serious business of trying to publish the next great American novel. About a week later, I got an email saying that Torquere had accepted it. I was shocked, stunned, elated, overwhelmed, and amazed that the last piece of writing that I’d ever thought would be published would be my first real publication — The Glass Man. To date, I’ve published nine more pieces, including a novel, and my tenth story is coming out in June.
Do you write full time?
I wish. No, I love my job working with special ed kids, too.
Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
It chose me. I can’t ever remember not writing. My mother taught me to read before I started school, and books and pens were just always there.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Honestly? I get up at five-thirty and start work in the high school by seven-thirty. I carry a notebook around with me and scribble whenever I have a little break. I leave school at two-thirty, drive almost an hour home, sit down at my computer for a few minutes, then drive my daughter half an hour to her ballet class (yes, she dances almost every day of the week. She’s got the artistic gene, for sure), drive another half hour home, take care of my dog and cats, try to get outside a while, deal with house work stuff, make dinner, write for a little while until my husband and dancing daughter get home, then try to write for a little longer after that, until I fall asleep at the keys and my husband puts me to bed. Days when I actually have the house to myself, have an hour or two of silence, and am wide awake, are few and far between. Not the best way to write, but for right now, it’s my only way. And when I’ve carved out time to be at the computer, I certainly make good use of it.
Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Both. I write right through, but I belong to an on-line writer’s group, and I’m typically subbing my story to them as I go. So when I get feedback, I go back and work it in, then carry on.
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I have to actually write to find out what I want to say. I write in layers. The first draft tends to be mostly dialogue with plot points interspersed. Once the plot is stable, I start laying in description, and then tweak and fuss with the language right up to the publication date, much to my editors’ frustration, I’m sure.
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
Very little. The only piece I had to do research for was “Origin,” in the Shifting Steam Anthology. I had to find out about the Victorian Era, and dinosaurs, and all kinds of cool stuff for that. It was interesting, but I’d rather just write.
How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?
Oh, my characters are always way cooler than I am. Maybe as cool as I wish I were. In general, I try to keep the various lives I lead separate from each other, because when they collide, it can be pretty spectacular.
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write straight through, or do you revise as you go along?
I feel comfortable showing fairly rough stuff to my writer’s group because we’ve worked together a long time and they’re used to my typos (I’m a horrendous speller). How long it takes me to complete something really depends on how many projects I have going at once. Usually, I can write a novel in six months.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
Never had it. I have the opposite problem — I get twitchy when life gets in the way and prevents me from writing. If I get stuck, it means I’ve created a mess and I need to hit delete for a while and start over.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
I just hope they have fun reading it. And if it makes them think about love and tolerance and acceptance, then that’s great.
Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
It’s more work than I ever dreamed, it’s more fun than I ever dreamed, and I can’t imagine going back to life before I was published. I’m addicted.
Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or does it come before you even begin the first sentence?
I always give everything a title before I write a single word because a title gives me an anchor that I can’t drift too far away from. A teacher once told me, “A novel untitled is a novel unfocused,” and I took that to heart. Though sometimes I start with the wrong title.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
Me, laugh? I am the epitome of seriousness at all times, the polished, professional author rising to every occasion in complete and total command of the situation, and it would be deeply insulting for anyone to imply that I might succumb to such foolishness as an attack of the giggles at an inopportune time. (Ha.) I laugh often, usually at myself.
What is the most frequently asked M. Raiya question?
Are there really dragons disguised as humans living in Vermont? (Answer: absolutely!)
What are you working on now?
Revising a novel, revising a short story, and going through edits of a novella which will be coming out in June.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?
Don’t leave a single sentence behind until it’s the very best sentence you can write. This has forced me to slow down — I used to bound through manuscripts. I also write with an eye on my word count because I suffer from run-a-way-novels badly.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
This whole internet-web presence thing makes me crazy. Computers do not come naturally to me. If anyone could have told me twenty years ago what I’d be doing today, I never would have believed it. I feel like I have control over my own blog, but every time I’m out on somebody else’s site, like hosting the Torquere LJ, with an invisible audience… As my poor family and friends can attest, I’ve been known to flee from my computer, grab a cat, and curl up on the couch sobbing hysterically when I’ve posted something that didn’t come out right. I fear embarrassment more than anything.
Writing is obviously not just how you make your living, but your life-style as well. What do you do to keep the creative “spark” alive – both in your work and out of it?
Oh, my husband’s always offering to let me… never mind. Um, I guess I always let myself be a writer first and foremost. No matter what I’m doing, I see it through my writer’s eye; even unpleasant and stressful things can be great writing experiences. And I do other things that bring me joy as often as I can. I try to swim several times a week just for the relaxation of it, and I love just grabbing my camera and heading out for a long walk to refocus. I’m addicted to bird watching. And I have a wonderfully supportive network of family and friends.
What kind of books do you like to read?
Everything, really. I read a lot of m/m now (for market research, of course!) but I’ve always enjoyed fantasy and science fiction and mysteries and contemporary and historical. A friend has decided it is high time I learned to appreciate fine comic books and Japanese graphic novels, so I’m reading whatever she gives me lately.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
A photographer. I sell note cards in a local gift shop and do some senior photos for kids at school.
Where did you get the idea for the stories you write?
My head? Everywhere? I don’t know. They’re just always there, so far.
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
Oh, I’ve loved all my covers so far. I’ve actually subbed one of my own photos for my next cover, and I’m waiting to see if it’ll be used. That would be pretty awesome.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
Photography, bird watching, swimming, canoeing, biking. Oh, and eating.
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
The next installment in my Notice series is coming out June 13. A dragon wedding. Exciting stuff.
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Always remember to have fun. And never listen when people tell you what to write or what not to write. That sounds really obvious, but if you’re writing in a genre that’s not exactly mainstream, there can be a lot of pressure from unexpected places. I made that mistake in college, and I wasted a lot of time writing stuff that wasn’t coming from my heart. Trust yourself. Take a chance and go for it. And then keep going, no matter what.
What future projects do you have in the works?
The next installment in the Notice series is a novella called “A Sky Full of Wings.” I’m editing it right now. Beyond that are some things in progress, and I’ve got an idea for another story that’s just starting to form. I kind of hope it turns into another novel, but I’m not sure yet.
Can you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
http://mraiya.blogspot.com/ Feel free to drop in, leave a comment, or send me an email. I love feedback, and I’m friendly.
Could you please share your favorite excerpt(s) from one of more of your stories with us?
Sure. This is from my shape shifter novel, Notice. It’s a flashback scene where my heroes, Varian and Josh, first connect with each other. Varian is a dragon in human form, and he’s been busy denying that he feels anything toward the flamboyant art major Josh, who lives in the college dorm room next door. Their relationship deepens in my short story, “The Dragon and the Mistletoe.” My novella coming out in June, “A Sky Full of Wings,” is the adventure that their wedding turns out to be.
Things changed the spring of that year, on one Sunday night when I came back to school with a sprained ankle after spending the weekend at home. I’d injured it while helping to rescue a young dragon who’d managed to impale herself on a dead pine tree, ripping a hole right through her wing. She was safely underground and mending when I’d headed back to campus, tired and cold and not aware how badly I’d hurt myself when I’d fallen out of the tree in human form until I took my boot off and my ankle started to swell.
At two in the morning, I lay on the couch in the suite’s common room with my foot up on pillows, trying to do some neglected homework where my light wouldn’t bother my roommate and really wishing I had some ice for my ankle and something to drink, but not having the energy to face the pain of getting up.
When I heard the suite door open, I admit I was a little disappointed that Josh came in and not one of my friends. I really wasn’t in the mood for his foolishness as he looked down at me over the back of the couch.
“What did you do to yourself, silly boy?” he asked, bending down to fluff my pillows like a mother would.
“Oh, I fell hiking today,” I said. “It’s just sprained a little. Leave it alone.”
“It needs ice,” he said, going over to the refrigerator we all shared and groping around in the freezer section. “Is the pain bad? Have you taken anything?”
“No,” I said as he came back and put a plastic bag filled with ice cubes over my throbbing joint. “Ah, that feels good,” I added, lying back. “Thanks.”
“I can give you something that’ll make you forget you have an ankle,” he said, looking down at me again.
“Ah, no,” I said. “But if you’d grab me a soda, I’d really appreciate it.”
He brought me a cola and then unlocked his door and disappeared. When he came back, he had two reddish pills in his hand.
“Yeah, no thanks,” I said.
He grinned. “Ibuprofen. Honest.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Fine. Swell up all night if you’d like.”
I took the pills out of his hand. They looked like Ibuprofen, but I was no expert. And my ankle was really throbbing. I sighed and downed them with a swallow of soda. “Thanks, Josh.”
“You’re welcome.” To my surprise, he settled down on the end of the couch next to my foot.
“You don’t have to sit with me,” I said, gesturing to my book on Queen Elizabeth the First that I was supposed to have gotten through over the weekend.
He grinned. “Are you kidding? I want to see the great history major get high.”
“Josh, what did you give me?”
He just grinned wider.
“Damn you, if–”
“Relax. I told you — Ibuprofen.”
“Then why are you grinning like that?”
Suspecting I was doomed, I made to kick him with my good foot, which just made him laugh. Within five minutes, a deliciously warm and pleasant feeling began creeping over me, dulling the aching throb. Queen Elizabeth the First couldn’t possibly compete, and I let her slide to the floor. Josh laughed again.
“God damn you,” I said, yawned, turned my face into the pillow, and slipped into a deep, peaceful, and very floaty sleep.
I didn’t wake until the suite came to life the next morning, and to my surprise, I found Josh waking up at my feet. I took a lot of ribbing from the other guys about that, but it was in fun, and I was actually kind of glad that Josh hadn’t drugged me and then abandoned me. It became a joke between us — he insisting it was really Ibuprofen, me insisting it had been Rohypnol or something — and neither giving in. It wasn’t until now that I began to suspect that he was right, and that my sudden peace and easing of pain had been because my body recognized the presence of the one whose soul was bound to mine, even if our minds and bodies didn’t know it yet.