The Patient from Silvertree
What inspired your most recent book?
My most recent book, The Patient from Silvertree, was inspired by a long series of stories I told my little sister while we were growing up. I wrote these stories down for fun when I was a teenager, but I never planned to publish them, even though I always wanted to be a writer. After I worked as a registered nurse in a hospital for two years and returned to graduate school to study biomedical sciences, I decided to take all the ideas from these stories and weave them into a coherent narrative. That is why this book includes medical and scientific elements in addition to mystery and romance. I decided to write this book for young adult readers because I was a teenager when I initially came up with the story and because the main characters deal with issues teenagers sometimes have to face.
What was the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Since I originally put this story together over a long period of time with no intention of publishing it, I had a lot of trouble consolidating it! I had to leave out some characters I adored because there simply wasn't room for them. Also, the story had to change significantly to allow the newly-created central theme to run throughout the series in a satisfying way. It might have been easier to start with a blank slate than to decide what to keep and what to throw away!
What was the hardest scene or character to write in your most recent book?
The climax of The Patient from Silvertree was difficult for me to write because it was loosely based on a difficult period in my life during which I was afraid about the future and doubted my worth as a person. Although none of the actual events were real, the emotions were genuine. Exploring these feelings again through my main character's mind was draining. I wanted to acknowledge the heaviness of the topic while offering a glimmer of hope. I probably re-wrote the climax more than ten times before I got it right.
Do you remember the moment (or person who inspired it) in your life that you knew you were going to be a writer?
My mother read to me extensively when I was a child, which was the beginning of my love for books. My sisters also helped inspire me by telling me stories or by being an eager audience for my ideas. I was ultimately inspired to publish my first book after practicing my writing over a period of ten years and realizing I had enough material to create something unique and (hopefully) enjoyable for readers.
Tell us your favourite character you’ve created.
Lisa, the main character in The Patient from Silvertree, is my favorite among the characters I have created. She started out as an unremarkable girl who was only there to please her parents, but as I continued to explore her story, I began to relate to her. I eventually started exploring the issues in my own life through her, and that was when she became special. She persevered even when I threw all my problems at her. In many ways, she was the only "person" who understood everything about me.
What was the first thing you learnt as an indie author that has never failed you?
Be persitent as you add to your creative work, even if you only accomplish something small at any given time. It's easy to get discouraged or distracted, but if you keep going, you will eventually be proud of what you have created. Every single day, I take steps to advance my career as an author, even if it's something as simple as educating myself about some aspect of the trade that I don't fully understand. This approach has allowed me to finish my first book and make good progress on my second.
Have you ever written a story from a dream?
No. I often think about my stories before I fall asleep, though, and I occasionally dream about them. This sometimes helps me figure out a scene I was struggling with or visualize something I was trying to imagine. My mind is more creative while I'm falling asleep.
What genre that you haven’t tried already would you like to?
I want to write a dystopian novel. I have one in mind, and I actually worked on it a few years ago, but it wasn't any good at the time. After my current projects are done, I'm planning to pick it back up again. It concerns a hypothetical country that punishes criminals by making them invisible. I hope this story will be richly symbolic of the way some populations are marginalized by society.
Do you base characters on people you know?
A few of my characters are loosely based on real people, but most of them are imaginary. I like to think through the minds of my characters when I write, and if I were trying to base them on real people, I don't think I would be able to use this approach. I feel like I have more freedom when I'm not trying to copy a real person.
Do you do a lot of research and why, or if not, why not?
I didn't do a lot of research for The Patient from Silvertree because I specifically chose to only include topics I was already familiar with. All the settings in the story are places I've actually visited before with minor modifications. The medical and scientific ideas in the book are inspired by situations I've either heard about or experienced as a nurse and a graduate student. I chose to stick with topics I already knew because I wanted my book to feel authentic.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
My editor was phenomenal. She not only gave me feedback on my manuscript, but she also suggested books for me to read that would help me become more familiar with the young adult genre. My cover designer was also incredible. I still don't know how she managed to capture the atmosphere of my book so perfectly! I greatly enjoyed working with both of these professionals, and I am confident they made my book much better than it would have been otherwise. They were worth every penny.
What does literary success look like to you?
While I would like to make a living by writing books, the true joy in writing for me is hearing feedback from readers who loved the story. I want to provide a book readers can enjoy again and again. I would like to establish an audience that is excited when they hear I'm about to publish a new book.
Do you try more to be original or pander to readers’ wants?
I try to be original. However, I want the story to be satisfying, so I try to think about what I would enjoy as a reader so I can incorporate those things into my work. Also, I was grateful for the feedback I received from my beta readers and I changed several things in my book based on their recommendations. Ultimately, I feel like the book is for the reader, not the author.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
My first two books will be a series. This is simply because the story I wanted to tell needed more room than a single book could provide. While I like the idea of building a connected body of work, I also enjoy the discovery of coming up with new ideas. Once the series I'm currently working on is finished, I will be working on one stand-alone novel and one novel that may be the first book in another series. Basically, if the story and the world in which it occurs are big enough for more than one book, I am delighted to write a series. However, I won't prolong a story for the sake of writing a series.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I want my book to feel genuine, but I also try to be sensitive of the reader, especially because I write for young adults. I try to be true to the story, but I don't want to include anything that could be upsetting to readers if it isn't essential for the story. I once read that darkness is okay in a book as long as it serves a purpose; otherwise, it is distasteful. I've tried to keep this principle in mind when writing some of the more difficult scenes. I want my book to be something readers between the ages of thirteen and eighteen can read without being either traumatized or bored.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
The Patient from Silvertree took me fourteen months to complete from start to publication, although the first draft only took me six weeks to write. I don't anticipate the sequel will take me nearly as long to finish. When I wrote my first book, I was still learning about the art of writing and editing. Now, I'm more confident about my narrative voice, and I know how to avoid many of the pitfalls I had to sift out during the editing process for my first book. I am also more familiar with the correct steps that need to be completed to create a final draft that is ready to be published.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
I wish I had considered writing as a career more seriously when I was younger. Only over the past few years have I attempted to actually learn the craft of writing. Previously, I just told stories and wrote for fun. I would be a better writer now if I had studied and practiced more when I was younger.
If you have a day job or family commitment, how do you work writing into it?
I'm a full-time graduate student, so I'm only able to write when I have time. I set a word count or other goal for myself each day and try to accomplish it no matter what else I have on my schedule. Sometimes I've written between classes or on the bus or in the parking garage. I fit it in wherever I can. I sometimes even write or edit for stress relief when I have a lot of other commitments coming up. It helps me focus.
Do you ever think it’s ethical to reply to your book reviews?
I would only reply to a book review if I specifically requested it and wanted to thank the reviewer. Otherwise, it seems counterproductive to reply to reviews. Each reader has a valid opinion, even if those opinions are contradictory. It's not appropriate for authors to argue with readers about their opinions.
Do you have a favourite literary magazine or website that’s excellent for indie authors?
Reedsy has been incredibly useful! The blog posts are always helpful. I've found a wide range of excellent advice about editing, design, and marketing there. My editor and cover designer were also from Reedsy, and they were a pleasure to work with.
Do you always give books not your own a chance right up until the end, or are you quick to DNF?
If something in the book intrigues me, I'll finish it even if I'm not satisfied with the way it's going. For example, if I care about one of the characters, I can still enjoy the book even if I don't like the plot. The only books I haven't finished are books that I feel aren't written clearly. I don't want to have to read the same paragraph three times to try to figure out what the author is trying to say. Also, if I don't like any of the characters, it's difficult for me to stay engaged. However, this almost never happens!
Do you think a big ego is a hindrance or a help?
I think a big ego is a hindrance. Everyone has something to learn, and humility is always attractive. If I had a big ego, my readers would probably hate me no matter what I wrote, and rightly so. Being arrogant is not a recipe for long-term success. On the other hand, I think it's good to be confident in your own writing if you've worked hard to create a good product. You should still be open to constructive criticism, though, if you want to be successful.
Do you think writer’s block exists?
Yes, I think it exists. When I was working as a registered nurse, I was completely unable to write for more than a year because I didn't have any emotional energy to devote to it. Not only that, but I actually lost the desire to write during that period of time. I have recovered, but it was crippling when it happened! Now, I make a practice of writing almost every day so I don't get rusty. However, if I had to work in a high-stress environment like a hospital again, I suspect I would find myself struggling to be creative.
What’s been your best experience navigating through indie authoring?
My best experience has been having total creative freedom. Although I worked with beta readers and an editor, incorporating many of their suggestions, I'm glad I didn't have a publishing contract and deadlines for this first series. Making all of the creative decisions myself allowed me to end up with a book that was exactly how I had envisioned it. I also love that I can keep full ownership of my work as an indie author.
What’s been your worst experience navigating through indie authoring?
My worst experience has been realizing the contempt that exists in some circles for self-published books. Although self-published authors don't have the approval of the "gatekeepers" in the industry, that does not mean they don't have a legitimate story to tell. Even typos and formatting issues shouldn't be fatal to a book if the story is good. From a reader's perspective, I've certainly never discarded a book for either of those reasons. Knowing my book is looked down upon simply for being self-published is discouraging.
How do you feel about book pirating?
It is unethical. When authors aren't compensated appropriately for their work, their ability to produce additional work is hindered. That being said, I suspect some readers who initially pirate books go on to purchase them later. Although any publicity is good publicity, I would rather have a small audience who obtained my book through legitimate means than a large audience who downloaded my book illegally. The worst thing is when the author's name is stripped off the pirated book so they don't even get the benefit of visibility. Credit should be given where it is due.
Do you have a hidden talent?
I can charm any cat, no matter how unfriendly!
Do you have any secret marketing advice?
Be nice to people. It might not immediately help you sell books, but it is the right thing to do, and it will make other people want you to succeed. I've found that by connecting with other authors in a positive way, I've built relationships that have both encouraged me and expanded my audience.
What book do you own or have read that might surprise your readers?
I own a field guide to reptiles. It was a gift from my older brother.
Do you have an embarrassing or amusing weakness?
I've had three orchids growing on my desk for the past five years, and no matter what I do, they refuse to flower! I got them when they were tiny, and they have become quite large. However, they will not bloom, no matter what I do. I can get other plants to grow, but not orchids! I don't know why.
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