Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Maia. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I’ve always been drawn to books and theatre. My first creative writing was plays. My mom would say I was drawn to writing dialogue because I would never stop talking—and she would probably be right! From there, I went to writing stories with a friend. We would each work on our own stuff until we got stuck, and then swap stories with the single instruction: write me out of the corner I got myself into. Usually those stories were fantasy, since we were (and still are) big fantasy/sci-fi readers.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
My first published book was The Ballad of Jimothy Redwing. It was also my first foray into NaNoWriMo. I wrote the initial manuscript in November of 2006 and it made it onto the eBook shelves in June of 2008. That’s pretty quick in the publishing world. If only that were the case more often!
When did you start writing m/m romance? What about this genre interested you the most?
My first m/m romance was a fantasy story written in play form when I was a junior in high school. That was back in the ’80s when it wasn’t exactly de rigueur. I think I was first drawn to m/m for that reason, because it wasn’t being done in the mainstream, and I’m not a mainstream kind of person. The same-sex dynamic appealed to be because I had fewer biases about how it was “supposed” to be. We’re programmed from such a young age in our society about so-called men’s and women’s roles that to find something that hadn’t been societally defined for me was intriguing and appealing.
How long did it take you to get published? How many books have you written thus far?
It took about a year and a half from polished manuscript to publication for my first book. Since then, I’ve had two more novels, two novellas, and a short story published.
Do you write full time?
I wish I had that sort of success! LOL! What I write is subgenres within subgenres. That sort of niche isn’t a huge audience draw. But I wouldn’t trade it. I love what I write. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t write it. And I have no interest in writing something I wouldn’t want to read.
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?
If you’re smart, you never choose a profession in the arts. It’s just too difficult to survive through creative endeavors alone. I’m a writer and I’m an actor, and I think the best advice I ever got about acting applies equally to writing: Don’t do it unless you have to. If there’s something in you that drives you to create, then run with it, but if you don’t have that something within you, run the other way. It’s just too damned hard if you lack that spark. You can’t force art.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
I start every day with a pot of coffee or double latté. This is necessary for life. After the caffeine starts to grease the mental wheels, I’ll settle in with my laptop, review what I did the previous day, and (hopefully!) move the story forward. I try to write in chunks of at least two hours a couple of times a day. A really productive day puts me at the computer for up to six hours solid. Anything more than that means aliens have taken over my brain and are using my fingers to get their story onto the page. In a good way, of course.
Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
I try not to revise too much as I go. NaNoWriMo has taught me how to put my head down, not look back, and just get the words out. That’s a vital skill, and without it many of my books would never have been finished. But I do like to make sure things are making sense as I go. It makes revisions easier.
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
I cannot plot. When I try, I get bogged down in fiddly details that ultimately do not matter. I’ve also found that when I know where a story is going, if I know the ending, then there’s no fun in writing it. Without fun, what’s the point? It’s the ride I enjoy.
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
This is where writing fantasy comes in handy! I get to make everything up as I go! But seriously, fantasy must be grounded in reality for it to be successful. When I get an idea for a story, I’ll make notes about what sort of mythology I want to create for the world and for the characters, and then I’ll go looking for references that keep those mythologies genuine. I have a weird habit of creating religions in my books, and I want them to be plausible for the characters and their world.
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?
I know a lot of actors. Actors love to play characters. Sometimes actor friends pop into my head while I’m writing and say, “I want to play this person you’re writing about.” or “You need a new minor character here. I’ll play him!” In those cases, it’s fun because it makes the physical description easy and because I can play up things that those people do well on stage without necessarily pulling from them in real life. Sometimes I’ll pull from reality, but I try not to if I can help it. That feels a bit like an invasion of privacy when it goes too far. Giving a character someone’s laugh or borrowing a minor incident from the past is one thing; writing in-depth about a real person’s relationship with their abusive ex, for example, is potentially breaking a confidence.
I am in all of my characters even if we have nothing in common. I created them, so they are part of me. Sometimes it’s obvious (at least to me and people who know me), and in those cases it’s quite deliberate. I’m an actor. Sometimes I want to play a supporting character, too!
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?
If I’m NaNo-ing, it takes about a month to write the first draft. After that, the manuscript has to sit and settle for at least another month, which gives me time to get some distance from it. Then I read and revise, which can take a month or more depending on how diligent I am. And then I’ll send it to my beta readers and critique partner.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
I don’t know any writer who hasn’t hit at least one wall in his or her time. At the same time, though, I see “writer’s block” as a crutch or an excuse. Yes, even when I claim it for myself, it’s an excuse not to sit my butt down and finish the job. And that’s the only way past it in my experience. Just put on your big girl panties and get over it. Of course, a change of geography has helped in the past, too, but that’s not reliable, and sometimes it’s just not logistically feasible.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
I hope they enjoy it, first of all. I’m not out to write The Great American Novel™. I want to entertain. I want people be drawn to the characters, and drawn into the worlds the characters inhabit. I hope readers find something to relate to in at least one person in every book. But mostly I hope they get to the end and say to themselves, “That was fun. I liked that.”
Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
1) Patience. You have to be patient in publishing. Every step in the process takes time. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait that happens and you have to accept that.
2) Be open to suggestion. Take your editor’s suggestions seriously and give them fair and unbiased consideration. If the edits and critiques makes the product better, that’s all that really matters.
3) Finding the right editor for you and your work is invaluable—and really hard.
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?
It’s a toss-up. Some stories name themselves before I start, but other manuscripts are done before I ever come up with a title. I can think of three of my published books that were named by friends because I hadn’t a clue what to call them.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Who and what makes you laugh?
Is it cliché to call my sense of humor quirky? Red Dwarf makes me laugh. Monty Python makes me laugh. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie slay me! British comedy in general makes me laugh. They’re so much cleverer than we Americans, on the whole. There are notable exceptions like Family Guy, 30 Rock and comedian Silas Lindenstein (local stand-up comedian, friend of mine. Hilarious!), but generally for me to be on the floor, there’s probably a Brit involved.
What is the most frequently asked Maia Strong question?
That has to be “Have you published [book X] yet?” It usually comes before I’ve ever submitted [book X] to a publisher. That gets old. People mean well, but honestly? When I finally sell a manuscript, you can bet I’ll tell people about it.
What are you working on now?
Currently I’m revising a contemporary LGBT paranormal mystery and I’m trying to finish a completely different contemporary LGBT paranormal police story. (The latter is one of those “put on your big girl panties and finish the job already” situations. I’m not proud of my procrastination, but at least I own it.)
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?
“It’s just ink.” I sad to say I can’t remember the author’s name. He hosted/emceed NorWesCon for several years and he does a killer Funky Chicken dance. He talked about edits and knowing when letting go of a fight because, in the end, it’s just ink. I’ve really taken that to heart and learned to pick my battles.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
Marketing is tough for me because I’m not good at selling myself. (The irony being that I work in marketing in real life. I can talk up anything that isn’t me.) I have what I would call a benign online presence. I’ve done some contests on my blog and on chat groups. I’ve guest blogged and chatted with readers. I’ve contributed to prize baskets at various conferences, but I’ve unfortunately been unable to attend any myself thus far. I know it’s just a drop in the bucket when it comes to serious marketing.
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?
Traveling helps tremendously! When I’m in a rut, getting out of the house/office, or better yet getting out of town, can be a serious recharge to the creative batteries. Friends and I will be on a weekend-long writing retreat at the end of April. I’m hoping, and planning, for good things!
What kind of books do you like to read?
I am a life-long fan of fantasy and science fiction. I’d also add young adult lit to that short list. I’m digging the current trend of dystopian YA fiction out there—possibly because it tends to have a sci-fi-ish bent to it. I also enjoy general fiction and the occasional historical work, fiction or non-fiction. Oh! And steampunk. I am not ashamed to admit that I am firmly on the steampunk bandwagon.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
An actor. I have to do creative things or I start to die inside. It’s ugly.
Where did you get the idea for the stories you write?
I wish I had a clever answer for this, like Dr. Seuss who said he went into the desert and picked the brain of a dead thunderbird (and then, naturally, drew a picture of said bird). I don’t think this question has a good answer. Where does creativity come from? You plug your fingers into the sky and see what you can catch.
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
Loaded question! I’m not a visual artist and I have great respect for what cover artists can do. That said, no one is perfect. Given the choice, I wouldn’t put faces, or at least full faces, on my book covers. Not unless I could find the exact right person to dress, pose, and photograph. Since I don’t have infinite time and money, casting models and organizing a photoshoot is off the table. LOL! I do love the colors and fonts and composition on the covers of all my books, and I even like some of the faces.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I’m super into indoor rock climbing these days, and I’ve recently started taking aerials classes. Clearly I don’t have a problem with heights or being upside down!
Any special projects coming out soon we should watch for?
There’s nothing on the calendar right now, but manuscripts are out there and I’m hoping for good news.
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Keep at it. The more you write, the better you get at it, and the more other people will want to read what you create. On a related note, don’t take rejection personally. You start down that slope and it’s an ugly ride to the bottom. Grow a thick skin as quickly as you can. Take critiques for what they can do to make you and your work better, and let the rest of it go.
What future projects do you have in the works?
I’m hoping to finish my paranormal cop story soon, and I have a series of paranormal mysteries that I’m shopping around. With luck, something will come of those in the near future.
Can you please tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
My website is www.maiastrong.com
My blog is maiastrong.blogspot.com
You can find me on Slash & Burn every other Tuesday: slash-and-burn.blogspot.com
And you can find me on Facebook by searching “Maia Strong, Author”.
Could you please share your favorite excerpt(s) from one or more of your stories with us?
Here’s an excerpt from my fantasy novella, Compass Hearts. I have an extra soft spot for these boys because they had such a hard time finding a home.
He barely recognized his own voice as he went on. “The human body is… fascinating.” There was a question, an invitation, underlying his statement. He hoped Ash would hear it and understand. Despite this sudden swell of bravery, he knew he couldn’t say that out loud.
A slow smile spread across Ash’s face. Matthew grinned back, guessing his message had gotten through. His guess was confirmed when Ash asked, “Have you ever had a live model?”
“No.” Matthew’s cock strained at his breeches. He yearned to draw Ash, see him stripped and posed. He couldn’t remember ever wanting anything so much or so urgently in his life.
Then reality crashed down on him. His face fell. “My materials are at my apartment.” In the time it took to get there and back, the moment would be beyond lost. And there was no way he was taking Ash back to his flat. He didn’t want Ash to see it. It was so unbearably grim, lacking in any charm or comfort, especially when compared to Ash’s quirky and inviting room upstairs.
“What do you need?” Ash asked.
“Charcoal pencils, largish paper.”
“I have that.”
“You do?” Matthew perked up at this spark of hope. It was almost too good to believe. “How? Why?”
“Botany class. We do a lot of plant sketching. I not only have charcoal pencils, I have pressed pigment pencils.”
Matthew’s eyes lit up and Ash grinned and grabbed his hand. “Come on.” Ash pulled him to his feet and toward the stairs.
Matthew’s practical side asserted itself and, still clinging to sense, he asked, “What about our books?”
“No one will bother them. Come on!” He practically dragged Matthew from the parlor. By the time their feet hit the stairs, though, Matthew was plenty willing to follow him up.
Inside the cozy comfort of the little attic room, Ash went immediately to the window seat. He opened it and fished around inside, coming up a moment later with a large tablet and a tin box. “Here.” He handed the box to Matthew who opened it and looked in wonder at the myriad colored pencils within.
“Where did you get these?” he asked, awed and envious.
“Some of them I bought in town. Some of them my dad gave me before I came here.” Ash flipped through the tablet of his botany drawings, Matthew looking over his shoulder. The plants were barely recognizable, and then only because he’d labeled them. “They’re awful, I know,” said Ash. He pulled a disgusted face. “It’s all right to say so.”
“I just have one question,” said Matthew.
“Yes?” Ash turned and looked up at him. “What?”
“Are you actually passing botany?”
Ash burst out laughing. “All right, Master Critical.” He flipped to a blank sheet and shoved the tablet at Matthew. “Let’s see you do better.”
“That much I can guarantee.”
“I’ve never been an artist’s model.” Ash’s eyes looked deep blue in the lantern light and his voice was husky. “Tell me what to do.”
Matthew swallowed hard once. The heat and tightness in his groin were intense, and he was glad for the tablet he held in front of him. What was he thinking? He’d never get through this! Panic began to rise in him, quelling his arousal. No. I want to do this, damn it! Steeling himself and taking control of his fear, he said with as much authority as he could muster, “Strip.”
And this one is from my sci-fi cop story novella, False Dawn. Galen appeared fully formed in my brain, complete with an opening scene. Populating his world and telling his story was a delight.
Galen tossed and turned in his bed. Usually it felt too small for two people but tonight, lacking Dayan’s warm, solid presence beside him, it was like an ocean of space. He should be used to the absence. They worked opposing shifts often enough that it wasn’t uncommon for each to spend a sleep period alone. Several, in fact. On nights like that, he would fall asleep safe in the knowledge that his husband was out doing his job and would come home at the end of his shift.
But not tonight. Tonight he didn’t know where Dayan was. He didn’t know when or how they would find him. Didn’t know if they could.
No. They had to. Losing Dayan forever wasn’t an option.
Damn it! They must be missing a clue.
Well, duh. He rolled over, disgusted with himself. Of course they were missing a clue. If they weren’t, they’d have solved the case by now and he wouldn’t be complaining about how the stupid little bed was too big without his husband to share it.
The afternoon’s investigations had left them no further along than the morning’s. No one had seen anything. No one knew anything they hadn’t already disclosed. No one could explain how a full grown adult male could disappear in a corridor that had no doors, no interior ports, and no access hatches. And the ship’s chief engineer assured him and Flint quite soundly that there was no experimental new technology that could teleport anyone or make them invisible or shift them between dimensions or any other “science-fiction nonsense” like that.
“Fuck this!” Giving up sleep for a lost cause, Galen threw off the covers and sat up. “Lights to half.”
Dull gray light filled the bedroom, enhancing rather than dispelling its cramped dimensions. There wasn’t even satisfactory room to pace. He briefly considered taking a mild sedative; there were some in the bathroom’s medicine cabinet. What time was it? He looked at the clock in the wall over the bed.
Blue numbers glowed softly. 02:54.
Okay, so the tranq option was out. He had to be up too soon. He should have taken something hours ago if he was going to go that route. Damn.
He wanted a drink.
Galen made a noise of disgust and shook his head. “Not an option,” he said aloud to the empty room. He had to get a grip. Getting wasted–again–wasn’t going to do him or Dayan any good.
He padded barefoot into the small living room, the light level adjusting automatically as he went from one room to the next. “Play live video. News feed.” He sat heavily on the sofa as the wall holograph of the early a.m. news report was projected. The farm report, which covered all hydroponics and livestock updates, was on. He almost smiled. Who needed a tranquilizer when they had the farm report?
Unfortunately, it was just wrapping up. And the next news at the top of the hour was coverage of Dayan’s disappearance. Galen watched with growing anger as the news reader’s report got increasingly hyperbolic and sensationalist. Barely veiled suggestions that Engineering was tinkering with secret teleportation technology and an experiment that had gone bad. The woman went on to imply that Security was either complicit in the public deception or they were Engineering’s unwitting victims. Either way, it made the force look bad. Incompetent at best, and, at worst, a bunch of conspiring liars.
“Video off!” ordered Galen more forcefully than necessary. The projection shimmered and vanished.
“This is bullshit.” He needed to get back to work. Find the clue that eluded him. Find his husband.
Decision made, he rose from the sofa, grabbed a quick shower and shave, and dressed. His presence at the station at this hour would raise some eyebrows, but no one would challenge him. The security scuttlebutt network was almost as fast as the ship’s computer core. By now it was a given that everyone in the department knew Galen’s husband was missing.
He clipped the PG that Flint had requisitioned yesterday to his belt and headed out.