For much of my life, writing has been a largely solitary passion, which has been difficult. I’m so, so grateful to the #writerscommunity that, in the last few months, has staunchly changed that. Through it, I’ve connected with so many wonderful writers. It’s actually one of my very favorite things, when someone reaches out and boom! New friend.
On that note, I’m really excited this week to interview the wonderful...Mary Roach.
Hi Mary! First question as always is… where are you at in your writing journey, and how did you get there?
Thanks for having me, Ayana! I’m currently querying the book that I revised during Pitch Wars. I began working on the book in June of last year, submitted it to Pitch Wars in August, and was selected! I revised from October-February, and was so excited to showcase it in the agent round in February. I’ve found such an incredible community through Pitch Wars, and am excited to see where it takes me & my book. (:
**Update: Mary is now represented by Devin Ross of New Leaf Literary & Media
Congratulations on being selected for and completing #PitchWars. For those unfamiliar, it is a GREAT writing program. Can you pitch this Pitch Wars project, and any other things you’re working on. Has anything inspired these projects?
I have plenty about the book I’m querying (NO VIOLET EYES) on my twitter feed and blog already, and it was showcased on the Pitch Wars website. So instead I’d like to talk about my newest project, SEVEN FOR A SECRET, a YA thriller about angry girls taking back their power. It’s inspired by my own life in many ways; what it’s like to be a survivor and a woman and survive in a world where that often means being powerless. SEVEN has been both an exploration of taking back that power and a tribute to the survivor-sisters that sustain me.
I saw the pitch for SEVEN FOR A SECRET during PitMad and... whoa. There’s so much buzz. I’m really excited for that one as well! In talking about your writing, the obvious next question is: what is, in a word or two, is your writing style?
Lyrical & Accessible
Love it! And if your pitches are any indication of your work, I believe that. So, Mary. You’ve completed two manuscripts, which means you’ve had some experience in the craft of story telling. What is your favorite/least favorite part of the writing process?
I love drafting. It’s so visceral and raw and fun. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so I start a book with an idea of my main character and a very vivid image of what the final climax of the book will look like. For NO VIOLET EYES, it was a showdown in a lonely warehouse between a boy and a person he thought he knew. For SEVEN FOR A SECRET, it was seven girls at the heart of the forest, one of them holding a shin-bone knife. I write my way there, and if I outline it’s not exciting and I lose focus. The wanting drives me: I want so badly to reach that place I started with (the showdown in the warehouse, the confrontation in the forest) that I write furiously until I reach it.
As for my least favorite part: the first round of revisions. It makes me hate first-draft-Mary so much, because usually in that first draft I leave fun notes like “idk fix it later” or “a scene goes here.” Some notes I leave myself are even vaguely threatening, and never at all helpful.
That’s interesting. I find that people land staunchly on either side of the fence when it comes to the love-hate of revisions vs. drafting. Now I’m noticing a bit of a theme to your works, so where do you find inspiration for your stories?
Oh, this is a hard one to answer. Life, mostly. For instance, in NO VIOLET EYES, I write about found families, Boston, and free running, and all of those are deeply close to my heart and inspired by my own experience. The teens are inspired by the teenager I was, as well as the teens that I work with in my advocacy job.
Your work definitely has a very personal feel, which I love! Speaking of personal, I’m always curious about how writers manage life and other responsibilities alongside your writing? How do you do it?
In short: not well. It’s something I’ve made it a goal to work on this year. When I’m drafting, I don’t sleep. When I’m revising, I do it on my break at work, early in the morning, late at night, in every spare moment. I’m very all-or-nothing about it: once I start drafting or revising, I don’t stop until it’s finished, no matter what it cost me. Back in November, when I was revising NO VIOLET EYES on deadline and drafting SEVEN FOR A SECRET (which I did in about 2.5 weeks).
I ended up with some significant wrist pain and headaches that lasted, and that made me realize I have to be better at balancing rest/self-care along with writing. I work three jobs and have a demanding life schedule, and I’ve been forcing myself to take more breaks. Since Pitch Wars ended, I’ve gone hiking, snuggled my newborn nephew, and done a lot more
cooking and running to counterbalance the stress of writing/revising/querying & working.
Whew. Remember to take care of yourself friend! But wow, what a journey. It sounds like you worked really quickly and determinedly on all fronts. I’m wondering, how do you combat writer’s block and/or tough critiques of your writing?
I can’t say I’ve ever experienced significant writer’s block, because if I get stuck on a plot point I just injure a main character (the last one got shot when I got stuck. Sorry, Roan.).
As for tough critiques, I’ve had some very good critique partners, and some very, very bad ones. One had some very racist commentary on my Brazilian American main character, and we parted ways before we had ever exchanged more than a few chapters.
But harsh critiques in general are fine--as long as I know they’re coming. I’m very specific with my critique partners. For example, I’ll say “Can I get feedback on pacing and plot? Is there anything that feels off? Anything that’s confusing?” in a first round of revisions. I’ll ask that they don’t comment on any leftover adverbs, typos, etc.--I’m looking for the big picture stuff at that moment. I try to be that way with my critique partners, too; only giving them the kind of critique they specifically ask for.
Finally, applying for a mentorship program can be so, so helpful. Pitch Wars definitely helped with my ability to take feedback. Each mentee received an initial edit letter, and then line edits after they’d finished with the developmental edits, and that helped me so much! I’m happy to answer any Pitch Wars questions you might have. (:
Friends, you heard it here! Mary is the girl to see about Pitch Wars questions! Okay, Mary, now a fun question: would you rather have the power to be invisible or fly?
Oh, definitely fly. Invisibility doesn’t take superpowers.
...Mary has me over here shook with four words. What advice do you have for aspiring writers, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds?
Don’t stop. Don’t ever, ever stop. And find your people.
Tenacity & community are the two most important ingredients for surviving writing (& querying, & being on sub, & being in your debut year, etc. etc.).
I wouldn’t recommend publicly airing every part of your own journey (though if that’s you and you want to, I’m not judging). I personally found that being part of group chats/slacks/facebook groups can be so helpful. People can share agents/agencies to stay away from (or ones they highly recommend), writing advice, mistakes to avoid, resources for finding sensitivity readers, etc. They can also share your highs and lows. I’m part of a group chat (hey, #llamasquad!) where we celebrate sending out a new query, getting another full request, or getting an offer of rep. We also commiserate when we get those rejections, too.
So. Persevere. Find your people, the right people, even if it takes a while. I promise it’s worth it.
I’m cosigning all of this. Another fun question: What’s your “anthem,” the song that would play if your life was a music video?
I don’t know about my life being a music video, but I love Rage & Serenity, by Henry Jackman (from the X-men soundtrack)
I’m listening and currently have...all the feels. Okay and… bonus question! You have an all-expenses paid trip where you want with one of your characters--where do you go and who do you bring and why, why, why?
I would definitely take Tess, my main character’s best friend, because she’s badass and a thrill-seeker and she would be a lot of fun to spend time with. And as long as we’re dreaming big, Tess & I are climbing Everest.
Mary, may you climb every fountain and forge every stream--thank you so much. It’s been a treat to watch your journey and I am cheering from the hilltops for you. Want to know more about Mary and her writing or ask her Pitch Wars questions? Follow her on Twitter or visit her website! Thanks, Mary!