The Writer Friend Feature is back this month with guest star Mara Fitzgerald, pictured to the right with her TBR list on her head because she’s good like that. I met her through the YA Buccaneers Spring Writing Bootcamp in 2014 when we were assigned to the same accountability team, later named the League of Antagonists. I knew I had to keep in touch with her when I saw a description of the YA novel she was querying: a magical plague-ridden ocean liner with a lesbian princess and the servant girl who has to save her? SIGN ME UP YESTERDAY. I know you’re terribly intrigued now, so I’ll let Mara take it from here:
1. Okay, basics first: Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.
First of all, thanks for allowing me to run my mouth here! Having my ego fed is always lovely. I’m an avid YA writer, Libra, and Slyther-puff. I have East Coast sensibilities, but I currently reside in Tennessee, where I work as a molecular biologist and eat barbecue. The good thing about working in science is that you meet a lot of strange people, and occasionally thinly-veiled versions of them end up in your stories. The bad thing is: good luck explaining to most of them that you write stories for young adults about queer kids with magic powers.
2. What’s the earliest story you can remember writing?
In fifth grade, I had a bit of a nemesis. We were the two biggest nerds in the class. My teacher decided that my nemesis and I were just SO talented that we should collaborate on an Epic Story Adventure. The story ended up being about a group of kids–idealistic versions of our friends, made with their heavy input–who find a door that leads them to ancient Egypt and have to rescue a prince from a pyramid, which for some reason contained a giant seahorse that breathed fire. At this point, due to…creative differences, we broke up and each wrote our own ending. My ending was cute and happy. Pretty sure everyone in his version died.
3. What do you think is the secret to balancing writing pursuits with a busy life?
I tend to be a binge writer, so my secret is clearing as many hours as you can, one day a week, and hurling words onto your keyboard. Whatever your style, I think working with the people and commitments in your life to designate writing time–and respecting that time with everything you have–is extremely valuable. Even if it’s ten minutes, which, let’s be real, is sometimes all you have if you want to sleep at all. (Alternate plan that always ends poorly: never sleep). Also, I find one of the biggest things that blocks my writing is difficulty getting into the headspace. If you can figure out how to jump right into the headspace and stay there, your ten minutes here and there will be super productive. I’m still working on that one, but I find music and rereading a chapter or two of what you last wrote helps.
My secret for clearing a block of writing hours once a week is not having kids. People with kids who are also binge writers…I Hunger-Games-salute you.
4. What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
When you’re editing and realize you accidentally did something super clever in your story, and for a split-second, the skies part and you KNOW you’re a genius. (We shall say nothing of the other 98% of the time when you’re convinced everything you touch is horrible and you should never be allowed near a keyboard again). Second to that is when a story idea first lights a fire in your brain and leaves you burning to put your fingers to the keyboard.
5. Tell us something useful. A piece of advice, a link to an article you found valuable, a writing reference book you love, etc.
I recently picked up Donald Maass’s book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. It’s like boot camp for your manuscript. In the text, he describes it as getting your PhD in novel-writing. It’s not kidding around and it made my brain hurt. It’s excellent for writers who have been writing long enough that online articles about the basics of writing start to feel like they’re not deep enough for your needs. (That being said, I’m still working on the basics and revisit them every time I start a new project!)
My other piece of advice to writers querying or on submission is to stop checking your email so much. HAHAHAHA just kidding, that’s impossible.
6. What are you working on right now?
I’m querying a YA fantasy manuscript (Unofficial Title: Queer Girls with Magic Powers) and plotting a YA contemporary (Queer Kids Cheating on Standardized Tests) and a YA sci-fi (Queer Kids Doing…Stuff in Space, IDK Yet). During this plotting process, I’m also trying to read more and keep up with the ridiculous amount of amazing YA coming out!