I could not be more excited to share this interview with you all. I attended an incredible writing conference "When Worlds Collide" in Calgary, this past August. There were so many fantastic speakers present.
So, I was thrilled when I reached out to one of the speakers that truly resonated with me, and inspired some changes to my own writing process.
Please give a very warm welcome to S.G. Wong. Grab a hot beverage, take a seat and dive into her "Meet The Author" interview.
1. What inspired you to write your debut novel?
It was a stray thought in the middle of the night, actually. I was a new mum at that time, and I’d been reading my way through all the Philip Marlow novels by Raymond Chandler—y’know, in between trying to figure out how to care for this amazing new little being. So one time, I was up, nursing my baby at around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I remember rocking him gently in the chair, in the darkened room, with only the night light on, and the low hum of the humidifier keeping us company. And bam, seriously out of nowhere, I thought, what if the femme fatale were the private investigator? Things kind of snowballed from there. I started with these tropes and played with them until I had a more realized character.
The story for my debut novel, Die On Your Feet, came from that character, Lola Starke. She was just too interesting for me to leave alone. So interesting, in fact, that I built a whole world for her. I tinkered with an alternate historical timeline, as well as with paranormal elements, and I came up with a Chinese-dominant city-state, which I based on my idea of Los Angeles in the 1930s. I call my city-state Crescent City. As a way for me to explore even more in this world, I also write short stories set in it, and as these stories’ protagonists, I choose characters that orbit Lola in the novels, some more minor than others. i’ve published 3 novels and 4 short stories to-date and this setting is still so fascinating to me.
2. What did you choose the path of Traditional publishing?
I didn’t know anything about the publishing industry, when I started writing that first novel—nor by the time I finished it! I’d only been an avid reader, with stars in my eyes about authors and about publishing. So I only knew to research traditional publishing as a way to get published. And certainly, in 2011, when I started shopping my manuscript with agents and editors, self-publishing had a terrible reputation. Plus, I didn’t feel able to take that on fully, all of the work involved in being my own publisher, essentially.
3. Do you have any advice for other writers looking to pursue Traditional Publishing??
I think the advice is the same whether one pursues traditional or self publishing: do your research, your due diligence, and go in with your eyes wide open. With respect to trad publishing, It’s important to understand the ramifications of your traditional publishing contract. It’s important to understand what your publisher will expect of you, and also what you can expect from them.
Hmmm, I suppose another piece of advice is to consider your editor(s), agent, publisher as business partners. I mean, if you want to publish your writing, and not just to write, then the end goal is the same: to get your book/works published and sold to lots of readers. You’re on the same team, though with perhaps slightly different points of focus. If you don’t think your business partners are moving in the same direction as you would like, then talk to them about it.
So that’s my last piece of advice: communicate! Any time you’re uncertain about some aspect of publishing or editing or rewrites, etc., ask questions until you understand. My experience is that people want to help you, esp. if you frame your questions with true curiosity and a wilingness to get the big picture.
4. What inspired you to become an author & has it always been your dream?
I remember a writing exercise in grade two. We were given these little rectangles of wallpaper. Mine had stripes in magenta, orange, white, and I think…wine. I wrote about mer-people under the waves. My teacher loved my story so much, she took me and it to show to the school principal. I still remember how proud she was of me. That was the first time I recall anyone reacting to my writing so positively. I felt writing was a calling for me, something I couldn’t imaginenotdoing, but this experience in grade two gave me the idea that perhaps it would be good to have others read my writing.
Deciding formally to pursue publishing, however, that was an entirely different choice and utterly fraught with terror and anxiety! But when I can step back from my (unhealthy!) pursuit of perfectionism, I do see it as a dream come true. I feel blessed to be doing what I love.
5. Where’s your favorite space to write?
My office! I mean, ok, it’s a bit of a mess, but it’s my mess and I love the sort of kinetic chaos of my piles and shelves of books. I also have a treadmill desk, so I can be healthy while I’m working, since I write full-time.
6. What are your top 5 must haves for a writing space?
1. A source of natural light
2. Relative quiet
3. Tea (preferably green)
4. Bright lighting (preferably daylight spectrum bulbs)
5. A pen to fidget with when I’m thinking..!
7. How many hours a day do you write?
I try to block out at least two hours for working on my WIP every weekday. Sometimes I manage less, sometimes more, and sometimes I write on weekends and evenings, but that’s a good average. A few years ago, when I was trying to finish my second novel, I committed to writing every day, no matter if it was 5 minutes or 5 hours. That was pretty fun, but I haven’t found that sustainable for me.
8. In terms of Outlining are you Plotter, a Pantser or a Plantser?
Ahh, the always-question! I’ve always defined it as “Plotsing.”
I always start with an outline. That’s where I write out the scenes in my head for a project, whether it’s a novel, novella, or short story. The outline lets me get the plot points figured out, while also putting down any details that I’ve already got, like setting background, character dress and mannerisms, etc.
When I start writing the first draft, I often veer in different directions, based on what the smaller details are showing me as I write. I like having the outline as my point of reference. It gives me the freedom to write in unexpected directions, because I know I’ve got something that holds the general shape of the original whole.
9. Because I have a pretty Type-A personality, I’m always curious about other peoples scheduling methods. Do you use a schedule to plan out your life / writing & if so, do you use paper or electronic planning?
I’ve tried all sorts of planner-type things, but I always seem to gravitate to paper. There’s something about writing things out by hand that really works for me. I’m also a paper and pen nerd, so I have great pens!
Having said that, I use my phone calendar for everything, and double it up on the family wall calendar in the kitchen. This includes work appointments/meetings as well as my life in general. This last part is mostly in service of coordinating multiple family members’ schedules, I guess.
10. What is your favorite part about the writing process?
I have two favourite parts: the beginning and the end!
I’m happy enough to bear with the middle, but that’s where I often get bogged down in self-doubt, so you can understand my feelings on that. But the beginning is where the ideas are still so bright and shiny, just waiting for me to articulate into words. And the end comes with that wonderful sense of accomplishment; I can burnish those perhaps slightly-tarnished ideas back into a bit of shine.
11. What is your least favorite part about the writing process?
The self-doubt. It’s been inevitable so far and I’m not sure if it’ll ever go away. But the recovery seems to take less and less time, so there’s that.
12. How long on average does it take you to write a book?
I’d say about 10 weeks to finish a first draft, after having spent about 4-6 weeks creating that outline. So…no NaNoWriMo for me!
13. What’s your biggest internal obstacle in getting your writing done?
I have a chronic condition that often takes up time I’d rather spend writing, but it’s time spent on my health, so I can’t really be too mad about it, I suppose...
14. What’s your biggest external obstacle in getting your writing done?
My other full-time job: being a parent! But also, I often volunteer for things I probably shouldn’t tackle without more help.
15. Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I think we get stuck sometimes, sure. When that happens for me, I remind myself to trust in the process. Whatever’s not working in the MS just needs some time to make itself known. So I leave the MS for a while, and do other stuff. At some point, and it’s usually just hours rather than days later, I realize what’s not working with the MS. Then I go back to writing and rejig until the story’s running again. Sometimes I come back to the end I outlined; sometimes, I end up some place completely unexpected.
But I don’t feel ~blocked~ per se, in the traditional sense. I guess that term connotes a kind of antagonistic relationship to me, which I don’t subscribe to with my writing. For me, writing is a process to translate the stories in my head into words that become a narrative approximation. It will never be identical to the stories in my head, but that’s an inherent shortcoming with words, not a fault of the writer. If I trust in the process, the writing will flow. It always does and I just have to be open to the possibility that it will flow in a direction I hadn’t anticipated.
16. Does writing energize you or exhaust you?
It definitely energizes me—though the walking on the treadmill while I write can be exhausting!
17. Best piece of advice for other writers?
Try stuff. See what works for you and what doesn’t. Be willing to make mistakes. Have fun!
18. What is your favorite quote about writing?
Ooooh, just one..? How about this, by Maya Angelou: “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have."
19. Which authors are your biggest inspirations?
In terms of genre, Raymond Chandler. His works are problematic, for sure, yet at the same time, I can’t ignore the sheer power of his iconic PI and the sharpness of his tropes.
In terms of worldbuilding, Patricia Briggs. Her Mercy Thompson/Alpha & Omega series take place in the same world. It's so rich and intricate, but you don’t see it until way into the series. It still manages to surprise me and I’ve been reading these series from their start.
20. What are you currently working on now?
I’m writing a contemporary mystery, set in the Canadian Rockies and parts of Alberta. Amnesia, kidnapping, murder—oh my! After I’m done rewrites, I’ll start shopping that to agents, hopefully in the new year. While that’s going on, I’ll return to my ongoing Lola Starke novels. Next up in that series is a trilogy arc for books 4-6. I’m pretty excited about that.
21. What is your Favourite Season (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer)?Does the season impact your writing life / creativity?
I HEART SUMMER!
But in terms of writing, there’s no one season that’s better for me than another. It’s more that I’m blessed to have a full, rich life, so when i come up against challenges to my writing and creativity, I reframe them as “good problems to have.” For example, shoehorning in time to finish a piece of writing while I’m out of town at a literary festival is a problem I’m happy to have! In the grand scheme of things, it’s a privilege for me to be a writer and author.
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