Author Interview: Lorna Suzuki

While I’m working hard on finalizing my Team Alpha manuscript this month, my blog might have been echoingly empty, except that I met the fabulous Lorna Suzuki on Twitter a few months back. Last month, she ran an interview with me, so I jumped at the chance to return the favor.

Indie author, Lorna Suzuki
Indie author, Lorna Suzuki

1. You’ve lived an interesting life, from an early career in law enforcement and heading up the education department for zoos and a conservation center to your decades of experience with martial arts. How do you see the range of those experiences playing out in your writing?

Many writers follow the adage: Write what you know. In my case, some of my personal experiences seeped onto the pages of my stories. Having lived with racism, I faced sexism, male chauvinism, and harassment, as I grew older. Being only one of two women in the field in our province back in 1979, my experience in law enforcement with the Federal Dept. of Fisheries & Oceans was not unlike the grief some female RCMP officers still face.

Suzuki books: Imago Chronicles, book eight and Dream Merchant saga, book one
Suzuki books: Imago Chronicles, book eight and Dream Merchant saga, book one

In writing the Imago Chronicles series, the female protagonist is half human and half elf. Being the only one of her kind, she is shunned by one race and denied by the other. To make matters worse, she enters the male-dominated arena of warriorship, training as an elite assassin. So definitely, some of her experiences were inspired by what I’ve dealt with.

2. What influenced your choice to give up the work with the zoo?

There was never a choice, but first, let me explain my involvement with zoos. Growing up in the 1960s, zoos were viewed by many as a form of entertainment. In my opinion, zoo animals were the ambassadors representing their species and habitat, both of which were, and still are, disappearing at an alarming rate. If these animals are entrusted to our care, it is not good enough to provide them with longer life. The focus should be on their quality of life and how to better their life in a safe, but artificial habitat. My job was to educate the public about the changing role of the modern zoos.

I prefer animals not to be held in captivity, but for many, there is no wild habitat left. So, is it better to let them become extinct because of our carelessness or indifference? I remember when many believed whales were nothing more than big fish. When credible aquariums showed patrons these animals were intelligent, they live in family groups, communicate and even express grief, society put pressure on the whaling industries and for aquariums to stop treating the whales as circus performers.

I frown on animals made to do tricks for our entertainment. If animals are encouraged to display natural behavior so we can better understand them, then that’s different.

Many want animals to be free, but wild places are fast disappearing. Others say, go to Africa and see animals in their natural environment. But what is natural about a pride of lions struggling to catch a meal while tourists in ATVs tear through their habitat, scaring off their prey animal, just to observe them? Life in the wild is difficult enough. Animals starve or die of fixable injuries all the time, but when people interfere to have this ‘natural experience’, it is always the animals that suffer. The zoo is now the modern ark, preserving/conserving endangered species and educating the public about the need to protect wild spaces so there are places for species’ reintroduction. Through the years, I found unless people feel a connection to these animals, they tend to care less about them or their plight.

As for leaving the zoo, the entire management staff, myself included, had opinions about how a modern facility should operate. These opinions did not align with the new, foreign owners. We were all relieved of our duties.

On February 6th, 2002, I had no job to go to. One door slammed shut, so I pried open a window. On Feb. 7th, I began writing the first novel in the Imago Chronicles series.

3. I know you use your martial arts knowledge specifically in your books. Have you ever had authors ask you for a technical review of their fight scenes?

No, but I’ve had authors with no martial arts experience tell me they studied my fight/battle scenes to learn how to write them. This changed after I listened to a chat hosted by a writer. She said she hates it when a female character is able to take on a much larger opponent and do so successfully. Other authors chimed in, decrying how it’s “so phony” when a woman, especially a small one lacking super powers, can do this.

I had to speak up. I explained I’m less than 5 feet tall, but when I do demos, I use the largest men to prove you do not need strength or size to take on a big opponent. Of course, they didn’t believe it until I invited them to check out some of my martial arts demos where I do just that. The chat room went quiet. When the host returned after seeing my demo, she stated I was “an anomaly! It just doesn’t happen in real life!” It was obvious those lacking fighting experience needed some guidance as to what is truly possible. Since then, I’ve been invited to a number of literary events to conduct writing about fighting workshops and martial arts demos.

4. You’ve said before that you wrote your Imago series to make sure your daughter had a strong, female protagonist to look up to. Now that she’s an adult, has she commented on how reading your books has impacted her and her worldview?

My daughter, Nia, like the female protagonist in Imago, is biracial. Being half Japanese and half English, she, too, has had to deal with racism and continues to witness me dealing with it too, in our daily lives. She is pursuing a career in conservation, studying the same Wildlife program I studied at a local campus. I can’t say if it’s a coincidence she follows in my footsteps because my novels influenced her.

Like the female character in Imago, she observes the world around us, and like me, she notices human behavior. While Nia was in elementary school, we began writing the Dream Merchant Saga. Nia was appalled, seeing kids cursed with a sense of entitlement.  For example, one student lost a new iPhone on the playground. Nia offered to help her find it, only to have this student say, “Don’t worry, my mom will buy me a new one.” Nia couldn’t believe this! Also, she was irked when kids showed off brand name sneakers, clothes, etc. particularly when they made other students who were not so privileged feel bad about having less. Her reaction to this helped create Princess Rose in the Dream Merchant Saga. Rose is beautiful, but uses/abuses those around her because of her sense of privilege. She learns the hard way that it’s easy to buy loyalty, but true friendship cannot be bought.

5. Several years ago, you optioned the film rights to the first three novels in the Imago series. Don Carmody was attached as the producer and you ended up with an IMDB page. What happened?

Yes, Don Carmody is an Oscar-winning Canadian producer, best known for “Good Will Hunting,” “Chorus Line,” and the “Resident Evil” franchise. His production company was signed on, the screenplay was written, etc. but like most properties optioned for film or TV, at the eleventh hour, a major investor pulled out because the economy had tanked.

Since then, the original executive producer tried to option the property again, but now, I am working with a producer in New York. We are looking to develop Imago Chronicles for a cable  TV series. I believe this is a far better medium to share the series than to cram the novels into a film trilogy!

6. What lessons did you draw from that experience and what tips would you share with other authors who face similar paths and choices?

There is so much involved in a film deal and one must never accept an option agreement without fully understanding all the terms and conditions.

First of all, if a producer wants to option your property, get legal representation! If you do not have a literary agent, then find a good entertainment lawyer. In some ways, a lawyer can be better because literary agents take a percentage of EVERYTHING they negotiate (from book royalties to box office receipts and profits from merchandising), while many entertainment lawyers will charge a set rate for negotiating a deal.

Second, do not option for longer than three years, and if you do, make sure the executive producer meets targets or production milestones in order to receive an extension. For example, by the first anniversary of the agreement have a screenwriter hired and a script produced; second anniversary, have financing in place, etc.

Some big production companies will option a property merely to prevent a competitor from securing it. By placing milestones before renewing, it can reveal if the production company is serious about making a film or if they plan to just sit on it.

Do not let an executive producer option your property for $1. I’ve had authors tell me this is what they’ve done because a producer told them it’s common practice in the industry. James Cameron of “Titanic” fame was the one who started this $1 option fee. He made this deal with the “Terminator” film, but it was to secure his role as the director.

I don’t know many writers who are also directors, but unless you have a deal like this, the only person to benefit from such a deal is the producer. You must remember the primary goal of the executive producer is to secure a property for the least amount of cost to them. That $1 is to make the option agreement legally binding, if you accept.

Three, it is better to walk away from a bad deal than to sell your property (and soul) on a promise or a hope that having a book optioned will mean instant book sales, fame, etc. because this is rarely the case.

7. You’ve completed ten books in the Imago world. Do you think you’ll ever revisit it?

My health is failing, so I doubt I’ll do any more writing other than personal messages for Nia. I don’t like the idea of starting something I can’t finish. As it stand now, the Imago Chronicles is my legacy to her and I’m just so grateful we collaborated on the Dream Merchant Saga.

8. You’ve completed three books in the Dream Merchant Saga. Will this series go on as long as the Imago series?

Late in 2018 Nia and I published our last two novels in the Dream Merchant Saga, Book 4: Sin and Book 5: World’s End. These books will most likely be our last together. Fifteen novels later, and I think maybe the world has had enough from me.

9. What do you see as the biggest benefits of remaining Indie?

It’s great if you’re a musician or a filmmaker, but there is still a stigma attached to being an indie author. In my experience, both as an attendee and a panelist at various literary events, I’ve spoken to aspiring authors who have told me there’s a level of credibility when you are traditionally published, so that is the only way to go, ‘if you’re a serious writer’. Sadly, many of these authors have no idea how difficult it is to acquire a credible literary agent or to be pulled from the obscurity of a publisher’s mountainous slush pile. For me, even having a literary agent with a proven track record of sales to the big 5 publishers was no guarantee. In fact, I wrote my first novel with no intention of going the traditional publishing route. It was only when I self-published and was invited to do an interview and martial arts demo on MTV that a film producer happened to see me and one of my novels being used as a weapon. She brought the first three Imago novels, fell in love with them and searched me out to option my novels for the film trilogy.

As an indie author I am not pressured by deadlines other than the ones I impose. I can choose the retailers, decide on the retailers’ discount, as well as set my royalties for my eBooks and print books. Typically, this is not the case for traditionally published authors. BTW, I also know some traditionally published authors wanting to complete their publishing contracts with their big publisher to allow them the freedom to write as an indie author. So, it really comes down to the individual writer and their expectations.

10. What question did I not ask that you would wish to have been asked?

The only question that comes to mind is what would ever compel a vertically challenged, puny female to ever want to enter law enforcement at a time when women were just entering this male-dominated arena or become a martial arts practitioner/instructor in a style predominantly practiced by men. To this day, people scratch their heads when they look at me and discover my background!

If you’re interested in keeping in touch with Lorna, she’s on Twitter @LornaSuzuki

If you want to get a sense of her writing before buying her books, she has sample chapters posted on her website.

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