Last night I was fortunate enough to be invited to Harlequin’s exclusive blogger’s only night with Maria V. Snyder at their Sydney HQ. As one one might expect, the night was an absolute blast and I think everyone there is still riding cloud nine today. I know I am!
Firstly, I don’t live in Sydney, nor do I live close to Sydney. But I made the three hour track by train into the city for this event and I’m so glad I did.
Unlike a number of blogger events I’ve been too lately, this event was small and kind of intimate in it’s setting. I arrived at the buildings entrance just behind a group of 6 other bloggers and we all walked inside together with Theresa, a publicist from Harlequin. We were early, so poor Theresa had her work cut out for her going up and down the floors to constantly let people into the security building. It also meant we were left alone with Maria V. Snyder! Cue fan-girling screams and short bursts of unattainable excitement. Personally I found myself frozen to the spot when Maria was talking to me. Totally and utterly in awe. So embarrassing.
In total, I think there was only four rows of chairs set up, and really a handful of bloggers in the room. But what the event might have lacked in size, it more than made up for enthusiasm. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a bloggers event or readers convention/conference before, but there is something contagious and magical when you have a room full of like minded, book loving people who just ‘get’ that thing you love so much. The coming together of the book community is nothing short of thrilling, as everyone gets so excited that you talk at triple your normal speed just so you can get everything out. This is usually accompanied by a number of vigorous head nods, and the excitable-but-not-quite-jazz-hands-hand-shake. Last night was no exception to any of these, as a roomful of readers descended on poor Maria, while equally embracing those around them.
Maria spoke with the group causally while we waited for everyone else to arrive. She was even involved in a mass blogger ‘selfie’ that can be found here, and was subjected to an early round of photos with everyone before we even took our seats.
While we waited, and because my back decided to be painful, I had a quick look around the main rooms we were in. Harlequin and Harper Collins Australia share two floors in the same building in Sydney and I really don’t know how anyone gets any worked done there … the place is amazing. Obviously I couldn’t explore very far, but they have book names/lists and quotes printed in bright bubbles on their main hallway wall, the most comfortable chairs and impressive tall book lights. But most importantly, the bookshelves are to die for. This is isn’t the first time I’ve been here, but every time I get the worst case of bookshelf envy!
Harlequin, and Theresa in particular, really went to a lot of effort in setting up this event.
Not only was there a table laid with food, but there were adorable book cover cup cakes and a ‘Name Your Poison’ board that really helped set the mood and created an extra dimension and involvement level to the night.
We also each got to pick a small vial of magic ‘poison’ to talk home with us.
Before too long, Teresa introduced the lady of the hour, Maria V. Snyder to us and the more formal parts of the night got under way.
For close to an hour Maria spoke about everything from how she conceived the books, to her writing journey, to what she loves and hates in the books she’s reading and how one of her pet peeves made it into her own writing! One of the things I loved most about this event was how laid back and down to earth she was. Here was a fantasy superstar chatting casually with a bunch of readers while she was on an INTERNATIONAL tour! Her passion for her characters, the craft of writing, and readers really showed and it made me love her all that much. I particularly loved the way she talked so candidly about her writing promise and the way each book is a surprise even to her.
In terms of her writing, Maria is very much a pantser, or an organic writer as the phrase goes now. For Maria that means that she usually gets an idea for a story (usually the beginning, but not always) and an idea for the end before she starts to write, but she has absolutely no clue about anything that goes in between. For the most part, she said that these things just popped up and that the unpredictability of it was really cool:
‘I figured if I’m surprised, then you will be too.’
Maria also spoke at length about how Poison Study was always intended to be a standalone book. It was something she’d worked on for close to five years, before giving it to anyone else to read. Her family for one were really surprised to learn that she’d written it and didn’t know how to respond at first. She spoke candidly about how how she embarked on the publishing road without really knowing anything about the industry and how she’d been rejected 17 times by publishers before she got the call. Funnily enough, Maria tried to pass that call on to her husband thinking the Harlequin UK office were ringing for her husband who was a chocolate tastier and had contacts everywhere. In fact every story that Maria told us about her writing, life and publishing reality, was told with witty antidotes and genuine bemusement that this was her life and that she’d written these books, little know found herself in these situations! It was truly fantastic.
Maria talked about the problems with marketing the Poison Study series, as YA hadn’t taken off back then and at 19, her heroine didn’t exactly fit the mould. Nor did her writing, for the fantasy she preferred to read was not medieval boarding on historical similar to the likes of the Tolkein’s or the RR Martin’s, but rather fantasy with a difference, one where women were more than just mindless possessions or from monarchy’s. Maria deliberately choose to write fantasy with a strong female leads, whose strength came from their ability to problem solve and think for themselves and not necessarily from brute strength, and based it in a military style world because “[she] wanted mine to stand out.” And boy are we glad she did that!
When it comes to research, Maria is all hands on deck. She actually took classes with a broadsword and a rapier to learn how to wield them properly, and for the record, she prefers the heavy broadsword because at least it has a purpose and can do some damage rather than poking and enraging people with a rapier. For the Glass Storm series she took glass blowing lessons to make her books that much more authentic, and so she knew exactly what she was writing about.
Lastly, Maria had us in stitches as she recalled how her biggest pet peeve in books is insta-love and love triangles. Particularly, as those familiar with her books would be aware, the second of those made it’s way in to her books! Which leads us to one of the most poignant thing Maria said all night and that has stayed with me all day since the reason why she writes romance into her stories:
[There] was always going to a bit of romance in my books because it’s just fun [… and] an element that I hate when I read books without it. I get a bit disappointed.
As a fellow hopeless romantic, this comment really struck a cord with me and is able to express a concept that I’ve been struggling to put into words for so long.
However the most important thing we probably learnt all night, was that Maria has only two and half chapters lefts of Dawn Study left to write! She had planned to finish them before her trip down under, but life gets in the way. Also thanks to Gena Showalter, we get to get Dawn Study an entire month earlier than originally planned, so thank you Gena!
Once the official talk was done and dusted, it was time for the book signing and final photos before Theresa and Harlequin waved us off with a goodies bag.
Thank you so much to Theresa and the team at Harlequin Teen Australia for the hosting this remarkable event and for the chance to attend. As you can see from above, I had an absolute ball and made some fabulous new blogging buddies.
Maria V. Snyder’s Top Writing Tips!
The most important quality a writer can have is persistence. No matter what happens or how hard it gets, don’t give up.
Write the book that you want to read.
And when it comes to characters behaving badly – and in the case of her hated love triangle that stalled the writing of an entire book – “you’ve got to follow the character.” It’s not what YOU WANT to do, but what THEY NEED to do.