Sonya Bateman is the author of the very fun urban fantasy, Master of None, which comes out next week. I thought I’d try out a conversational email interview on her, and she agreed to be experimented upon. We had lots of fun with this. Enjoy!
I thought I’d start this conversational interview with a pretty standard question — your path to publication. Can you tell us how MASTER OF NONE came to be a published novel, how long the publication journey was for you, and about any bumps or detours along the way?
Ah, the Big Question! Here’s where I decide whether to give you the long answer or the short answer… I’ll start with the long one.
I’d been writing for ten years before I managed to sign with an agent, and piled up hundreds of rejections for eight or nine different novels, and a lot of mistakes along the way. I also managed, apparently, to drive one publisher insane and one agent into a nervous breakdown.
Things didn’t really start working for me until I decided to write urban fantasy. When I finished the manuscript, a funny thing happened – agents actually requested partials and fulls. There was a blurred period of a couple weeks, and I ended up signing with Cameron McClure, who works in my “dream agency” – the Donald Maass Agency, home of Jim Butcher. Bliss!
Two months later, the bliss evaporated when it became apparent the book wasn’t going to sell. It was not quite YA and not quite adult, and no one knew which shelf it should go on. So I could give up and get a job as someone’s secretary (and how very tempting that option was, because it had been such a long slog), or I could write another book.
Somehow I talked myself into writing another book. I still wanted to do something different, so I ran with the djinn. I finished the manuscript, my agent and I did some revisions and decided on the title MASTER OF NONE, and out it went on submission.
Fast forward about a year and a half. There had been a few editor requests for the manuscript, but no bites. I was looking at the strong possibility that this one wouldn’t sell, either, and I’d have to go again – another year writing and revising, another year or two waiting. I didn’t think I could face it all over again.
It was after the holiday season, the middle of winter, and I was working three part-time jobs and treading water. One of them was at the local McDonalds. One Thursday, I reported just before noon for a four-hour shift, and I got a phone call. No one ever called me at work with good news.
It was my husband. He said, “You have to call your agent. Right now.” I was eating a jelly donut that one of my co-workers brought in, and my hands started shaking so bad that I smeared it all over myself. We couldn’t make long-distance calls from the office phone, and I don’t own a cell phone, so I ran out of the office with red jelly all over my hands, screaming, “A phone! I need a phone, right now!” The grill manager thought I was bleeding to death. There was a long moment of confusion before someone finally gave me a phone.
I called my agent. I didn’t hear much beyond “two-book deal with Pocket Books”. I was shaking and crying, and I called my husband back and shouted something unintelligible, which he miraculously understood. Then I washed the jelly off my hands, and proceeded to spend the next four hours making double cheeseburgers.
So – twelve years, eleven novels, and a boatload of angst, and here I am about to become a debut author. At least I don’t work at McDonalds any more.
That’s the long answer. Let me know if you’d rather have the short version for space reasons – I do love that bleeding-to-death story, though. It was the funniest thing!
Are you kidding? That was hilarious!
So it sounds like going outside the box worked for you. Tell us a little about MASTER OF NONE – a little about what it’s about and your inspirations.
Also, is there any interest in your unsold novels now that you’ve made a sale?
Thanks! That was a great day, bleeding to death and all.
MASTER OF NONE started out, like most of my novels, with a character: an unlucky thief with an unlikely name. Gavyn Donatti doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue – nor is it culturally correct – but it fits him. I knew I wanted to write urban fantasy, and I wanted to base things around djinn rather than vampires or werewolves. I began the book with the idea that it would be something like a modern-day Aladdin (the Disney version, with lots of humor), only Donatti’s djinn wasn’t going to be the cooperative wish-granting type.
Of course, it didn’t turn out exactly like I’d planned. The book still has a few things in common with Aladdin – there’s a thief and a genie, and a Jasmine (Jazz – my naming her Jasmine was completely subconscious, I swear!), but the similarities end there. Basically, Donatti has to work with Ian (the djinn), who hates his guts, in order to save the the family he never knew he had, not to mention the world. And everything bad that can possibly happen to him along the way, does.
My other novels (at least the ones that didn’t suck too much) are currently available or being released under my pen name through a couple of great small presses. So, those didn’t turn out to be a complete waste of time.
Do any parts of MASTER OF NONE stand out as your favorite scenes, or scenes that were particularly hard to write?
The car chase sequence was tough. There was a point where I thought I’d never get it right! My agent had problems with parts of it – I rewrote it, and after it sold, my editor had different problems with it. I ended up including parts of the original scenes, parts of the revised scenes, and some new stuff. Ultimately, I think the sequence is stronger because of their input.
I think my favorite moments are the early interactions between Donatti and Ian. They hate each other so much in the beginning – it was just a blast to write.
Did the fact that they resolved their differences give you any trouble for the sequels? I’m assuming this is the start of a series, of course. If it is, please also give us a hint of what is to come. Will we see Quaid again?
It’s definitely a series! And as far as resolving things… well, they haven’t, exactly. They solved one set of differences, only to run into a few more. I’m not sure Donatti and Ian will ever truly get along.
The next book, Djinn’s Apprentice, features a cult, a curse, a kidnapping, and some serious blurring of clan lines among the djinn on Earth. Donatti discovers he’s more powerful than he thinks, and Ian learns a thing or two about trust, and why blind revenge isn’t always the answer.
Unfortunately, Quaid didn’t make it into the next one. But I have a feeling he’ll be back in a future installment.
Oooh, learning about trust? Blind revenge not being the answer? I’m intrigued already! Do you have any idea of the release schedule for the next few books?
And does it surprise you when minor characters like Quaid turn out to be a big hit? I just love his whole mannerly bounty hunter demeanor.
Thanks! I don’t have a definite release schedule, but somewhere during the contract stage, the phrase “every ten months” was mentioned. Djinn’s Apprentice is written and awaiting revisions, so if that schedule is used, it may be out around January 2011.
I’m thrilled that you like Quaid – I’ve got a soft spot for him, myself. My minor characters always surprise me. I never plan them. They just kind of show up and say, “Here I am! Do something with me.” Lark and Tory were also a complete surprise – both their existence, and their relationship. But it definitely made sense once I figured them out, and they made it into the next book.
It’s cool that their relationship was a surprise to you because it did make sense to me. I also think Jazz is a wonderful character — tough, but a mom, with that necessary soft mom side.
Gah! It’s hard to think of questions that aren’t spoilers!
Sometimes it’s hard to keep the romantic tension going between characters who have worked out their problems. Some authors have resolved this by setting up love triangles (Janet Evanovich, Kimberly Frost), other authors draw the romance out over many books (Victoria Thompson, Anne Perry). However, some authors, such as Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series), manage to keep the reader’s interest in a committed couple’s relationship. Since we know by now you have already written at least one of your sequels, can you tell us if this has been a challenge for you, and perhaps give us a little teaser on how you solved this?
I hear ya – it’s hard to think of non-spoilery answers!
The thing I love about relationships is that they’re rarely static, even in real life. I think committed relationships can be just as interesting and tense, especially in urban fantasy, where there can be a great contrast between the ordinary problems in a relationship and the fantastic things that happen to the characters.
Jazz and Donatti started off on rocky ground, and they’re probably going to be there for a while. This helps in keeping up the tension. I’ve also given Jazz a few surprises of her own in the second book, so she’s going to be able to grow and evolve as a character within the dynamics of the core series group.
The first-person POV is probably my biggest challenge as far as showing their relationship – I never get into Jazz’s head! Fortunately, she speaks her mind and doesn’t pull punches.
Yes, that’s one of the limitations of first person . . . but I still love reading first person novels because it’s the best way to get into a character’s head.
Do you have any advice for the many aspiring writers who haunt this blog, which they may not have seen before?
And, is there any question you wish I had asked?
I’m glad you like first person! I’ve seen a lot of anti-first-person sentiments tooling around the Internet, and it surprises me – but I suppose it shouldn’t, since I’m anti-present-tense myself. Gives me hives, present tense does.
Hmm, advice. I always have a tough time with writing advice, because I remember what I was like while I was still trying to break in. Nobody could tell me anything. I was convinced, like many writers, that agents and editors were all out to get me. The problem wasn’t my writing, it was the Evil Industry. Fortunately, I got over that (only took me ten years!).
So, I guess I’d say this: never think you’re amazing. Not even the most successful authors ever are amazing to everyone – and if you believe you’re already fantastic, you’ll never try to improve. Also, if you have an idea for a series, that’s great…but don’t write the whole series. Write the first one, start querying, and then write something completely different while you’re waiting. I wasted a lot of time (many, many years) writing sequels to a book I couldn’t sell in the first place, and while the volume of writing helped improve my craft, it didn’t get me any closer to published, because I didn’t have anything else to sell.
Want a taste of Master of None? Here’s the first chapter. Be sure to let us know what you thought. You’ll find out what I thought of the entire novel when it comes out next week.