I am honored to have bestselling indie author Lorna Suzuki here today! She’s not only a terrific author, her books have been optioned and are currently being made into a Hollywood movie. I couldn’t be more thrilled for her. Here’s her story:
1. Lorna, please share with us a little background about your bestselling (and now movie-optioned!) books, The Imago Chronicles.
First of all, thank you for inviting me here, Rachel! Second, only in my dreams are my novels considered to be ‘bestsellers’! In all honesty, you’ll notice most of my followers on Twitter and Facebook are more interested in seeing the movie than in reading the books. I get more “I’ll just wait to see the movie” tweets than the “I’ll read your books first before the movie is released,” but I hope it changes once I can announce the names of the director and actors now that development is underway.
With the Imago Chronicles, it was pitched to the film industry as LoTR and 300 meets The Last Samurai. It has an ensemble cast of characters, but the central protagonist is a female warrior. Nayla Treeborn is half human and half elf. Being the only one of her kind, she is shunned by one race and denied by the other. The first of the movie-optioned trilogy chronicles her rise from unwanted child through her evolution to become a legendary warrior amongst the very people that keep her at arm’s-length.
2. What was (and is) your inspiration for writing fantasy books that center around a strong female character?
I grew up dealing with racism, sexism, male chauvinism and physical abuse. I also know what it’s like to be the only female in the male dominated arenas of law enforcement and martial arts at a time when women were breaking into these fields over 30 years ago. Knowing what it’s like to be up against some incredible odds, it made me realize most barriers are just challenges that are not insurmountable if there’s a will to rise above.
Nayla was created after I taught at a martial arts seminar. There were many women signed up for this self-defense class, but I was the only female instructor and also the tiniest person there. It was only after the session, when the female participants approached me, telling me that they never knew a woman could really fight.
When I asked why they believed this, the response was: “It’s in our culture, our upbringing and in the stories we read. Women don’t fight, they wait to be rescued by the hero.”
A quick check in the bookstore revealed there were many female characters, but if they were able to physically hold their own, they were either evil or they were imbued with supernatural or superhuman powers.
I didn’t want my daughter reading about women waiting to be rescued. I wanted her to read about women capable of doing the rescuing without superpowers.
In the Imago Chronicles, Nayla Treeborn is basically an ordinary woman capable of extraordinary things because of her years of training, her determined mindset and a rather fearless disposition.
3. As the mother of a daughter myself, I’m often disenchanted with Disney movies and other big screen movies which place young girls in situations where they are dependent on men for their survival. Do you feel strongly that your lead character, Nayla, fend for herself and how did you incorporate that into the books?
That’s interesting you’d say that, Rachel. It was for this very reason Jessie Finkelstein (editor at Raincoast Books, publisher of the Harry Potter series in Canada) was interested in the Imago series! She loved the Nayla character and how she was NOT imbued with supernatural or superhuman strength to be able to physically hold her own. She felt Nayla could be a real role model for today’s female YA audience.
Unfortunately, she asked if I’d rewrite the entire series to make the content more suitable for a YA audience. I had to turn down her offer (and yes, many of my writing friends dying for a traditional book deal thought I was crazy)!
As for Nayla being able to take care of herself, it can be done and my 30 years of martial arts experience are reflected in her style of fighting. Sadly, there are many with little or no martial arts experience that believe a puny female can’t fight to save her life. I’m shorter than Nayla, and until recently, all my martial arts students had been men and these guys know exactly what I can do. When I’m called to do a martial arts demo, I always choose the largest guys just to demonstrate you don’t need strength to take someone down and subdue them. Nayla is a very capable fighter, but she is not perfect and has the scars to prove it!
4. You’ve got a dream job: writer whose movies have been optioned. Congratulations! I always tell writers: start with a great book. How do you feel you’ve reached such success in your writing?
I think pretty much everyone I know measures success differently. I’ve had traditionally published bestselling author Jack Whyte refer to me as a ‘colleague’ and ‘fellow novelist’ and he has told me how well I’ve done, especially as an indie author (I will always consider Mr. Whyte as my writing mentor, he’s taught me so much about the craft). I also get many unpublished writers tell me that the true measure of an author is in getting a book deal with a traditional publishing house.
For me, I just feel grateful the stars have aligned to make a major motion picture trilogy for worldwide theatrical release possible! To know I don’t have a big following, but I do have very loyal readers that keep asking for the next adventure tells me I must know something about the craft of storytelling.
So, on the writing front, having about 97% of the first time readers returning to buy the movie optioned novels and many coming back to purchase all 9 novels in the series, even crossing over to my YA fantasy series just to keep reading can be used as a measure of success. This, to me, is a very gratifying experience.
5. Tell us a bit how your books led to movie production and when will we see Nayla on the big screen?
I started off writing the first book as a gift to my daughter for when she grows up and I’m dead and gone, but it seems that fate had other plans for this story. One day, I was invited to do an interview about the books as well as a martial arts demo so the viewers could get some sense of what Nayla does. My book was actually used as a weapon and a film producer happened to see this interview. She ended up buying my books and reading them. She fell in love with the characters and the stories and spent about 3 years trying to track me down and negotiate a movie deal. She moved quickly to finalize an agreement, as two other producers were interested in rights to the Imago series.
As for when it will be released on the big screen? Currently, we’re in development. An award-winning screenwriter I had recommended was hired and he did an AWESOME job on the movie adaptation, the line producer determined the budget based on the screenplay, 100% of the financing for film production has been secured, the list the producer wanted me to compile of possible actors for principle roles had been submitted; and just last week, the conceptual artist gave me a sneak peek of the preliminary visuals we might incorporate into the movie. So, development is well underway & full production is slated for later this year. Possible release is late 2014, but you’ll have to wait for the formal announcement via the PR department when they issue press releases to the trade papers in a month or two.
6. Any casting ideas or info you can share?
I was asked to compile a list of 5 actors I can envision in each of the principle roles. If we can get them, great! But this list is more so the casting director can narrow down the search in terms of height, age, look, etc. to fill a particular role. For now, all I can say is that part of the deal for this movie to be made is that there must be some A-list actors included in the cast, for this can be a real draw for many moviegoers.
7. What do you do when you’re not writing?
If I’m not writing, I’m teaching martial arts or spending time with my daughter.
8. How do your family and friends feel about the books and movie deal?
My husband, daughter and my close friends are thrilled for me. In fact, I believe they are more excited than I am!
9. Many female authors (and mothers) find it difficult to make the time to write and market their work. How do you do it?
It can be very hard. Like most moms, everything takes a backseat to the family. I spent years waiting until my daughter was asleep to begin writing. There were many long nights where I’d write into the wee hours of the morning, sleep for a few hours, and then make that long morning commute to work.
Thankfully, the movie option made it possible for me to quit my day job and write full-time, but still, my family takes precedence over everything.
As for the marketing, that’s tough. I’m a writer, not a marketer! So I do struggle with this. I barely have time to do a weekly blog and I try to ration my time on Twitter so maybe this is why my book sales suffer. I rely on returning customers to make up a big chunk of monthly book sales.
10. What’s one piece of advice someone gave you that you’d like to pass on to aspiring writers?
A traditional publishing deal is not the be-all and end-all in this business. I’ve had traditional book deal offers I’ve turned down for various reasons. I’ve also had two literary agents, the last having a stable of award-winning authors and multi-book deals with the Big 5 publishing houses, but I released her of her contract to use a fabulous entertainment lawyer to negotiate the dream movie deal for me.
I’d say do not get discouraged as this business can really grind you down. The majority of authors will never receive that big book deal with a major publisher and gone are the days of the six-figure book advances for a debut author, but still, if your ultimate goal is to share a story with the world, if you put the time and effort into the craft of storytelling, you will find your audience.
11. When is your next book due out?
I’m hoping the 10th novel in the Imago Chronicles will be ready for release before we head into full movie production, so I’m thinking my readers will have to be patient and wait for an October 2013 release.
12. Do you plan to write another fantasy series at some point?
After this novel is done, I will resume writing the 4th novel in the YA fantasy series that I cowrite with my daughter, Nia. She has become quite the writing powerhouse in her own right and we have another adventure planned for the characters in the Dream Merchant Saga. This series is slowly making its way into public libraries in the USA and was even the ‘Pick of the Month’ in April at the Walnut Cove Public Library in North Carolina where librarian Samantha Martin is determined to get these books into all the libraries in her region!
13. Do you write other genres? If yes, please share. If not, please explain.
I’m a freelance writer and I’ve tackled just about everything out there! From scripts for an Alice in Wonderland themed fundraiser and educational manuals to scripts for a TV travel adventure series (now with over 25 million viewers worldwide) and for a documentary that was aired on The Biography Channel, I’ve become pretty versatile and adaptable when it comes to making my clients happy.
14. Gin or vodka?
Non-alcoholic Vodka, please! (I think it’s called water…)
15. Please tell us about your writing routine!
On the weekdays, I wake up at 6:30 a.m. to make breakfast and see Nia off to school. While she is expanding her knowledge, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, I devote my time to writing. I try to treat it as a regular job, even going as far as getting dressed, and doing my hair and make-up before I settle down for a day of writing. Also, I fuel my brain with a cup of Mocha Latte or the writing muse will not cooperate.
16. What do you read when you have (haha) downtime?
This past year, I’ve made a special effort to squeeze in a bit of reading. I read not just for entertainment, but I like to study other authors’ writing styles. Right now, Edmond Dante’s in The Count of Monte Cristo has been coming to bed with me each night. Before this, I read Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys.
By the way, I follow the advice of one of my writing mentors, Terry Brooks: I will not read anything of the fantasy genre while I’m writing fantasy.
17. How long have you been writing professionally? Any tips for new writers?
I’ve been writing corporate newsletter and training manuals for years, but I didn’t start writing my first fantasy until Feb. 7th, 2002 the day after I lost my job.
I’m always reluctant to give advice as many feel I’m not a professional because I am not traditionally published, therefore, I have no business giving advice. I can only share what has worked for me, which will properly not work for most normal people!
One advice I will share is: If you can afford to hire a professional editor, then do it! If not, engage a critique group and use Betareaders to get unbiased feedback. Don’t rely on close friends or your grandmother (unless she’s a professional editor), as they will often bend the truth to spare your feelings just to keep relationships intact.
18. What types of marketing do you employ to get the word out for your books (social media, blog posts, advertising, promotions, press releases, etc.)? Which do you feel is most effective?
I’ve tried blog tours and interviews, even newspaper and TV interviews, but it has done very little to generate book sales. It wasn’t until I started warning people on Twitter “Please do not buy my books before reading sample chapters first…” did I start building a growing readership.
It wasn’t meant as reverse psychology ploy, but more as a way to pique potential readers’ interest and to warn those hoping for traditional epic fantasy to steer clear if this is what they are expecting.
19. Making people care about our characters is key to creating interest and empathy. Do you have a specific method when creating characters you can share?
Readers like characters that are believable, even in a fantasy world. I tell people to give their characters depth. In real life, we have layers to our personalities, we have things we believe and drive us to do the things we do. Just as we have good qualities, we also have weaknesses and flaws. So too, should our characters. Just as we have 5 senses, your characters should have them as well.
Bottom line: Even with tons of action and plot twists, if the readers don’t care about the characters, they probably won’t care to read to the end or read the subsequent novels in the series.
20. Final question: of the main social media channels, where do you spend most of your time and how do you manage it?
Twitter is my best friend! I’ve met so many fascinating, talented, and exceptional people like you on Twitter. Because my time is at a premium, I’ve chosen to focus on Twitter as my social media preference. As for managing my time on it, I try to limit it by using 5 or 10 minutes on Twitter as a reward when I meet specific writing goals otherwise, the writing would never get done.
Thank you so much for taking the time to interview, Rachel! It was fun!