Posted in: Author interviews, Azteclady Speaks
Folks, please help me welcome Ann Aguirre for a
grilling session erm, interview.
How long have you written—one of those “since forever” or more of a “sudden epiphany” person?
I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a writer. When I was in first grade, we had Career Day at school. We got to pick what we wanted to do for a living from cards with job descriptions on them. I chose “freelance writer”. My teacher said, rather condescendingly, “That’s not a real job, honey. Why don’t you pick something else?” That should’ve prepared me for the row I had to hoe.
I never did pick anything else. I scribbled stories from age eight onward. In tenth grade, I wrote my first novel, 150 pages on an old typewriter: small-town girl meets a mysterious boy who works as the Winnie the Pooh mascot at Sears. Despite having led a boring life heretofore, our heroine saves the boy numerous times. Even then, I had no sense of what was proper behavior for a heroine.
My next ‘serious’ attempt came in college. I was studying English Lit, which mostly bored the crap out of me. I discovered romance novels about this time. I ate those books like Cracker Jacks, especially the Loveswept line. I was a real sucker for the Romancing the Stone type story, where the city-bred heroine goes into the jungle with a survivalist hero.
And I thought, I can do this! How hard can it be?
Thus was born my deliciously bad would-be Loveswept romance. The heroine, Skye, was a stripper / heiress. She ran away from her father’s tyrannical control to dance topless and make her own way in the world. Her father hired former Black Ops military man, Stone, to retrieve his wayward daughter. I called it Heaven and Earth. Symbolism! Who says I’m not using my Lit degree? To my vast astonishment, Loveswept didn’t buy it.
Years passed. I scribbled in secret and worked at lots of different jobs. I had some babies, wrote more, and took some discouraging knocks, including having a dark, gritty historical romance shopped by a prominent NY agency. Rejected by editors at age 21? I wasn’t nearly tough enough for that. (I should’ve been glad I interested an agent at all. Who did I think I was, Lisa Kleypas?!)
Then I took a long hiatus; I was afraid to submit anything. Maybe I could just be posthumously famous…?
I’ve never gotten a call. Since I live in Mexico, I get the email, which says, “IM me” from my agent, and then I get the “IM” instead. But here’s how it happened… *Cue Wayne and Garth flashback music*
When I finished Grimspace, I knew it was “the book” for me. I just had to find an agent who knew it too. Within a couple of months landed with Laura Bradford. She signed me on March 29, pitched on April 11, and within two weeks, we had a nibble. An editor fell so in love with this book that she took it immediately for approval. I was on tenterhooks.
On May 14, I got a cryptic email from Laura: “Hiya, pop onto IM when you get a chance, would you?” My first thought was: crap, she wants to let me down easy. I knew, despite the editor’s great love for Jax, our nibble was a long shot. There were other pitches out, but none at the approval stage. So I squared my shoulders, signed on, and typed: “I’m here.”
I waited. It was a sunny day. The sky was heartbreak-blue overhead, sunlight dappling the fine pale whorls in the bark of the Noche Buena tree outside my office window. I know this because I stared at it for ten minutes, waiting. I scuffed my bare feet. Waited. I studied the bougainvillea climbing the terracotta garden wall and decided it needed trimming. Fidgeted.
Then Laura’s reply popped up: “We have an offer from Ace.”
Ace. It took at least a minute to sink in. This was the best possible result, my dream publisher. Then I screamed until the maid came to see if I was injured. Bouncing up and down, I told her, “Marta, vendí mi libro! Vendí mi libro!!” and she hugged me. Once she left my office, I cried at finally achieving the dream of a six-year-old kid who never loved anything more than books, whose teacher told her to pick a real job. Take that, Mrs. Johnson!
(Okay, that’s a looooong ass paragraph, only chopped into manageable parts. I can do that, I’m writing the questions, after all )
How long have you been published? How many books do you have under contract right now?
Define published. If you count small presses, something like ten years. If not, then my first NY sale happened in May 2007, and we went to press in less than a year. That almost never happens!
I now have nine books contracted, four of which are put to bed, and the fifth is very nearly drafted as well.
Is there any specific story about how Jax (Grimspace) came to be?
Short answer, hell if I know. Long answer, Walter Jon Williams penned an interesting novel called Aristoi, wherein he taps the idea that we possess fragments of other personalities locked away inside our brains; he called them daimones. These sub-personalities can think and feel independently and possess talents that we need. It’s an intriguing take on beneficial schizophrenia, and I sometimes wonder if there’s a kernel of truth to it.
Because the fact is, I don’t know where Jax (or her world) came from. She told me about everything as we went along, including the name of grimspace. So I’m going to theorize that I allow these personality fragments to evolve into whole people, complete with history and everything, and then I listen to what they have to say (without going batshit crazy). It sounds marginally better than, “I write what the voices in my head tell me to.”
Grimspace has been compared often to Firefly and Serenity *raising hand* yet you still haven’t watched either, right?—So, are you a fan of Joss Whedon’s other work, such as Buffy or Angel? Did you get to see the Dr Horrible webisodes, and if so, what did you think?
I have seen a few episodes of Firefly, but not the whole season. (WHAT??? Get thee the DVD and watch it, woman!) I have now watched Serenity, and I can see why those comparisons would be made. I can do worse than to be compared to Joss Whedon. (Heh)
As for Dr. Horrible, I saw the first act. Didn’t get a chance to watch the last two because my internet was wonky, and I had work to be getting on with anyhow. I really loved it. I’ve been a huge NPH fan ever since the first Harold and Kumar movie. I love that he’s not afraid to do camp.
You’ve said you are more a pantser than a plotter, yet… how many books do you think would be necessary to tell all of Jax’s story?
I think I can see her settled after six books. I do hope I get a chance to tell the last two stories, and I think I will because I don’t imagine people will want to be left hanging after book four, Killbox.
Both Grimspace and Wanderlust are written in the first person, present tense. You’ve said before that it is a way to increase the involvement of the readers, by bringing them into the action as it happens. How did you come to make the decision to write these novels like this? What has been your feedback?
It wasn’t a decision at all. I write in Jax’s voice, and as far as she’s concerned her story hasn’t concluded yet. It doesn’t have an end, and I find out what happens to her as she does. I stood by the method, once written, because I thought it enhanced suspense for the reader. In most narration, the reader has the unconscious surety someone must’ve survived in order to relay the story. First-person, present tense negates that safety net, and it also offers complete immersion in the action, more immediacy.
As for feedback, the majority of readers say, “I hate this first person [or present tense], but…” and then they go on to talk about how they really got sucked into the story and forgot about the technical aspects of it right away. A few people say they just can’t finish it because of the style.
I understand that you have a second series of books under contract, starring Corine Solomon. These urban fantasy novels are set in the present, in the Southwest, and also in the first person. However, the Corinne Solomon books are in the more conventional—or perhaps more used—first person past tense. Is it difficult for you to switch between these two modes of writing?
Nope. But I don’t multitask either. I write one book, take a short break, and then move on to the next one. It gives my brain a chance to switch gears.
Recently you created a new website for Ava Gray—what’s coming from ‘her’ and when? Also, there are arguments for and against writing under more than one name. Can you share what was the reasoning behind choosing Ava Gray for these new books?
The first book, Play Me, which is a paranormal romance, comes out December 2009. I chose a pen name to separate my romances from my speculative fiction. It’s always been a dream of mine to be published in both. I do think I’ll have a large readership that enjoys everything I write, however. Anyone who enjoys romance and action can find something to like in my work.
You’ve been called (by SBSarah and me, at the very least) a ‘viral marketing whiz.’ You have just returned home from a long trip, visiting a number of cities and hitting a number of writing/reader events. How do you feel that your internet presence has affected your image as a writer?
I have no flippin’ idea. Since I live in Mexico, I just know I need to use the Internet well. I learned a lot from watching Nalini Singh. She’s in New Zealand, so she faces some of the same challenges I do, only with less ocean between me and the States. It’s also a little cheaper for me to pop over if I must. I get to San Diego with fair regularity. Anyway, I just do what I do. I have no background in marketing, but it’s wicked cool to be called a genius at anything. Thanks!
Addendum regarding my trip—it was cool meeting so many readers in person. A note on that: if you meet me somewhere, and we’re acquainted online, tell me that! I love meeting my blog commenters. I saw on SmartBitches that GrowlyCub had me sign a book at WorldCon, but I don’t know exactly who she was. I really enjoy putting faces to the names, so even if you feel silly telling me you’re LittleFerret or FancyPants online, I will totally recognize you if you comment on my blog (or others I read).
You’ve described yourself as the ‘workhorse’ type of writer—à la Nora Roberts. How long does it take you, on average, to finish a novel? (from first word to when you send it to your editor the first time) What is your typical writing (or editing, proofing, etc.) day like?
I shoot for a draft in 30 days. It never takes me longer than 60 to get a draft done, even with interruptions. As to how long it takes to send it to my editor, I don’t know. I do three passes of revision before I call it done, and that’s generally spread over time while I’m letting the project rest, taking a break, or working on other things. So it’s difficult to quantify how long it takes to polish. No more than an extra month, I would say, in all.
When the kids are in school, I write from 8-2:30. If I didn’t meet my word count by that time, I go back to it until 5 or so. Editing and proofing is about the same. I work this like a day job, 8 hours a day, not including lunch, breaks, and walking around time.
We’ve talked about delayed gratification for writers—because between finishing a book to its release there can be a full year gap, if not longer. How do you deal with this?
Honestly, I don’t even think about it. I just write the book and turn it in. Then I cross it off my to-do list and move on. When a book comes back to me for edits, proofs, or revisions, I add it back onto my to-do list, and get it taken care as soon as possible, according to the rest of my schedule. Overall, my goal is always to get my books in other people’s hands as soon as possible because then I don’t have to worry about them anymore.
Thank you so very much, Ann, for spending some time here answering these questions.
But of course, I cannot let you go without asking a few crazy questions more
Is there any story you want to write that you think you’ll never write—not because it may or not be published, but because you don’t think you can write it to your satisfaction?
I’ll never write about vampires. I don’t think I have anything new to say about them.
Do you consider yourself more a SF/F writer or a (to quote Bev again) futuristic urban fantasy writer with romantic elements writer? Or perhaps something entirely different?
I consider myself a storyteller. Other people can worry about what to call me.
You live in the northern area of Mexico City’s metropolitan area; is there anything about living there that you love more than anything else? (family excluded) Anything that you absolutely hate?
I love the climate and the mountains. I hate the traffic. (Is there anyone who’s every driven there who doesn’t? )
Favorite Mexican dish: Dang, this is a tough one. I’d have to say… really good chiles rellenos. The right sauce and stuffing is key.
If you had to choose one book to introduce a person to your favorite genre, which book would it be, and why?
I don’t have a favorite genre or a favorite book, per se. Instead I read by mood, and my tastes are eclectic. But I would probably beg them to read Sharon Shinn just on general principle.
Grammar nazi or laissez faire?
Totally laissez faire. I try not to make egregious errors, but most stylistic issues do not concern me. I’m certainly not going to argue with my copy editor over the placement of commas, but I will admit, it irks me when people correct the grammar in my dialogue. I would argue that my dialogue is realistic because of the errors, since real people don’t carry about a Chicago Manual of Style. (Oh man, so true!)
Again, thank you so much, Ann!
Peeps, you wanna go to check out Ann’s amazing, humongous contest to celebrate the release of Wanderlust. She’s giving away $200–yes, you read right, two hundred bucks!–to one lucky commenter. Go check it out!