Marjorie M. Liu is the New York Times bestselling author of the paranormal romance series Dirk & Steele (Where the Heart Lives, Aug 2012), urban fantasy series Hunter Kiss (The Mortal Bone, Dec 2011), and is the writer for Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men comics, including the famous issue #51 featuring Marvel’s first gay wedding.
A relative newcomer to the paranormal scene, Chong asks Liu for some insight into genre, process and never giving up:
SC: Why paranormal romance (and urban fantasy…and comic books)? Why not another genre? Any chance of another genre in the future?
ML: Oh, of course. I love to write, period, and I love experimenting. I tend to think less about genre, and more about story — and there are many stories inside me that are romantic, but would not be considered romance — and just as many stories that could be classified as young adult, or thriller, or mystery, or maybe a little of everything all rolled into one. Playing in my imagination, reading, writing — these is my joy. I could never limit myself to just one thing. More importantly, I think it’s good to push myself as a writer. I would love to write a science fiction novel — and maybe I’ll be terrible at it. But I give myself permission to be terrible, because it would be far worse not to try.
As for paranormal romance…I love it! It’s so much fun! I loved reading fantasy novels when I was growing up (still love them) and stories with a good romance were the absolute best of all. I actually didn’t start reading romance novels until I was in law school, but they hit all the right notes in my imagination. And yet, when I wrote my first novel, I didn’t intend for it to be a romance novel…it was going to be a fantasy (I guess I was aiming for what we now call urban fantasy), but the end product was most definitely a romance…and the genre stuck.
Comic books are something else…I love reading them, they’re loads of fun, and being able to write the X-Men? Wow. That’s something I dreamed about for a long, long, time…but never thought I’d have the chance to do. More importantly, though, comic books and graphic novels are just another way of telling stories that merge the visual with the literary, and for someone who loves to experiment, that’s yet another beautiful opportunity to play with words.
Stephanie, what genres do you want to write in? I guess, another way of saying that is, is there anything you’re NOT interested in right now?
SC: That’s a good way of putting it! As a writer, it’s hard to limit yourself, and easy to see the endless possibilities in other genres! I would love to write Literary Fiction, YA, Urban Fantasy…I could go on and on…
ML: What is the closest you ever came to giving up?
SC: Giving up? What’s that?
Just kidding. I don’t think I would ever stop writing, and you’re probably the same. Writers write, no matter what, regardless if anybody is reading their work.
However, practically speaking, there was a very clear time frame after I finished my Ph.D. when I gave myself one year to get published. At the end of that year, I was planning on going back to work as a lawyer. I was very lucky that I met my editor and ended up with a three-book deal.
ML: Ah, we are very much alike. I also had a time frame. Right out of law school, after I was accepted into the bar, I decided it was now or never. Just a gut instinct. I knew this was my passion, but I also told myself I needed to be practical. So I gave myself a little time to write a book — like, a month — and by some miracle I actually did it. That book ended up being Tiger Eye. I revised, sent it out, told myself that I would go back being a lawyer…and then, fortunately, everything came together. I decided to drop everything and write full time.
You’re right, though — there was never such a thing as giving up. I would have written and kept writing even if it was only ever for me.
SC: Do you have any quirks in your writing process? Is your process messy or neat? Linear or all over the place?
ML: There is NOTHING neat about the way I write, except that I tend to go from the beginning straight to the end, with the occasional random scene written out of context — saved for a section of the book where it might fit, if it ever does. I don’t plot ahead of time, though. I have a general idea, a sense of the characters, and the rest unfolds as I work. Which creates messes, at times. I’ll dig myself so deep into a wild idea, only to realize at the 30,000 word mark that I really, really, shouldn’t have gone in that direction. But, it all works out in the end. The books get written, and each one is a learning process.
How about you? Messy? Neat? Do you outline or do you just write from the gut and play it by ear?
SC: VERY messy! I wish my process were neat and linear. I do write outlines with the best of intentions, but I find it tough to stick to them. I always come up with a million questions that I end up having to write down in separate documents.
You’re right – each book is a learning process. I’m beginning to see that now that I’m writing my third book. But as messy and sometimes frustrating as my process is, I love finding out new aspects of each story as it unfolds.
Marjorie, you live between the country and the city right now. Is it easier for you to write in one place vs. the other?
ML: What I need in all those places is a nest. And by nest, a place where my mind and body feels “nestled”. That’s usually on the couch, surrounded by books. But I’ve also written a lot of stories in coffee shops, as well. There’s usually that one good seat — in the corner, with my back to the wall — where I set up and just work for hours. People watching, drinking hot chocolate, letting the world around me act as a “white noise” that helps me relax into my unconscious creative self.
How about you? Is there one place in particular where you work the best? A time of day? This is all part of “the process”, but like athletes I think we all have our “lucky” rituals that help us get into that confident, relaxed mood.
SC: Mostly, I work at home. I have a home office full of books that is beautiful. Sometimes I work there, or in other spots around the house. Rituals definitely help! I like to start off with three pages of freewriting, as prescribed by Julia Cameron (I’m a huge fan of her books on creativity). I don’t always have time for that, but I find it really loosens me up to write.
For me, some of the best ideas come out late at night, when the filters are off.
Thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me today! It has been an absolute pleasure!
ML: No, thank you. It’s been wonderful speaking with you.