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.

Meaning in Life

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everyone rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
- Alan Watts

It’s been a productive month; I think the choice to reduce my blog check-ins is paying off. Traffic has only dropped off slightly, while my ability to produce new fiction has increased dramatically. Since my last post, I’ve added 8,428 words to my WIP. If I average 600 words per day through the end of March, I will finish my latest novel and be able to ship it off to my editor with plenty of time to manage a May release for Team Alpha. I’m excited to share this opening to a space opera series with the world… even if there is increasing evidence from such hallowed sources as Courtney Milan and Nora Roberts that plagiarists, scammers, and scummy people (book stuffers) have joined the Amazon party and make it increasingly difficult for original fiction to find its audience.

I’m blessed that I have a day job that allows me the luxury of pursuing my creative vision without having to worry too much whether it will ever pay off in terms of sales that (in an ideal world) would offset the costs of bringing quality content to market. In other words, I can subsidize myself–a rare position in the writing world. This may not always be the case, so I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

In some ways, my efforts are also a nod at the generations of female researchers whose names were hidden in notes of thanks rather than being given the authorial credit they would have earned in current practice. The rather odd flip side to that outdated practice was an article that asked readers to carefully consider whether they should take a promotion. A strangely related piece about the harm to business productivity when companies force employees to give up their free time for one reason or another. The article argues strongly for the need to back off from the 72-hour workweek by focusing free time on creative pursuits.

In the realm of more scientific research, a pair of authors dug into the well-known doomsday population predictions from the UN (that by 2100 there will be 11 billion people on the planet, specifically), and found… that the basis for the prediction doesn’t hold water. Reading the article about their provocatively titled book Empty Planet leaned heavily on debunking “everybody knows” style thinking, and speculated that not only is the rate of urbanization but also the rate of female education are outstripping predictions–and both have a significant cooling effect on population growth. Aptly, then, the final article I’ll share this week from those I’ve read recently: An interview with David Dunning on the psychological effect that bears his name: The Dunning-Kruger effect. “Here are the classic findings from the original paper on the effect in graph form. The worst performers — those in the bottom and second quartile — grossly overestimated their ability (also note how the best performers underestimated it).”

In heading back to the writing trenches, I can leave you with the news that my beta readers approve of my direction to date, so I’ll tease you with the opening paragraphs of the story as it currently stands:

At least in space, the air doesn’t smell like despair. Her brother would thump her if he ever heard her say that out loud. Dr. Marina Spitzer grimaced as the g-forces accumulated and she tracked the gauges in front of her eyes.

“So far, we’re still in the green over here.” Three years into their mission and it was still strange to her to use the tongue switch to make the words print out in the chat screen for her team mates. Given the frequency of the slingshot maneuvers they were using to traverse deep space, though, the group couldn’t count on being able to use hand signals or even type on their keyboards.

But it was vital to make sure that the seedlings in her care made it to their destinations hale and hardy, else essential nutrition be missing for the entire team. And for the future of humanity.

Rina argued with her brother in absentia. She was definitely in space—even if she were in a spaceship on her way to the next in the string of planets that everyone left on Earth hoped would suit for starting over. And she imagined she could smell the greenery her dials and gauges were reporting on, as the oxygen they provided filtered throughout the ship.

She imagined him putting on his rebreather mask as he braved the pollution of nuclear winter on his daily trek between the home block bunker and the research institute in Stuttgart. She was out here for Karl as much as for humanity.

Until next time, remember to question your assumptions and live your life for yourself. The rest, as the great Alan Watts points out, is merely crazy-making noise.

More Credentials, for Real

We were born to be real, not to be perfect.

This week I spent three days in class learning about ITIL, Information Technology Infrastructure library (according to Wikipedia)… or IT Infrastructure Lifecycle according to the notes I took from what our instructor told us. A great deal of what was covered hearkened back to the word salad I had to get used to for my PMP. The interesting-to-me distinction is the focus on shifting IT organizations to the service mindset–to the degree that each phase of the lifecycle has service in its name: Service strategy, service design, service transition, and service operation… with continual service improvement sprinkled over and through each of those four segments of work.

Today, then, the interview I responded to by Lorna Suzuki went live. She’s an impressive indie author with the rare credential of having had her trilogy optioned for movie rights. There’s more than a little bit of inner squeeing going on at having connected with her. And she’s consented to submit to interview questions of mine, so look for that post in the upcoming weeks.

Apart from that, I’ve managed to squeak past 39K words in Team Alpha, as well as provided beta reading feedback for two other author friends. For some reason, I’m feeling more connected to the writing community these days… and enjoying it.

Naturally, I’ve also been reading. Not only novels, but also stories that introduced me to existential therapy, a modality that sounds like it matches the kinds of questions hubs and I bat back and forth in our daily lives together. I suspect that validating existential concerns for each other in the way described in that article plays into the intimacy we’ve built with each other.

Then there were the articles that resonated with my feminist heart. The one about the 13-year-old who opened the doors of Stuyvesant HS to females 50 years ago felt vaguely familiar to me, a W&L alum who attended that university within 4 years of its decision to go coed. There’s definitely discomfort in kicking open that door, and it’s ironic to me that I’m still doing it to some degree by working in the IT sector.

On the other side of the balancing acts in my life, is the question of cooking. I enjoy it. I do it well. But coming up with recipes that match what’s in the cupboard on a regular basis is exhausting. In a review of the book Pressure Cooker, there is a thoughtful assessment of the unconscious bias and judgment in available cookbooks–and an unexamined classism that accompanies them. It was an eye-opening read that reflected on the nightly exhaustion I feel when coming home from work and faced with yet more decisions about how I might choose to nourish myself.

As we come up to Chinese New Year (lunar New Year, this year on February 5), a friend of mine pointed me to an old evaluation in the Foreign Policy Journal of Asian women born in “bad luck” years. The statistics of how their lives unfolded point to a chicken-egg question of whether there is some kind of esoteric proof of Asian astrological practices and insights, or whether belief in those assertions becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Similarly, more recent news that some Japanese pensioners are committing petty thefts to be able to be sent to jail pointed to a whole other swath of cultural assumptions that might make a westerner cringe.

So I’ll close with a link to the Rejected Princesses site, a collection of women’s biographies (both historic and modern) that don’t otherwise get much visibility. It’s fascinating to see the range and scope of work women have been undertaking through the millennia–much of which gets ignored or actively excised from history.

Until next time, I’ll continue to work toward that balance we all aspire to in our pursuit of being Real.

New Year Thoughts

I get most of my exercise these days from shaking my head in disbelief.

Something about the changing of the years invites an atavistic response to make grand adjustments. As I get older, though, it becomes clearer to me that really, the change from one year to the next is about as stirring as the change from one day to the next. There’s gratitude that we’ve been granted another sunrise, naturally. But January is a dreary month. Quite similar to December, in point of fact. (As I write this, it’s been snowing for 24+ hours, we have more than a foot of snow on the ground at our house, and the county and the Federal governments have shut down for work tomorrow.)

So while big changes aren’t necessarily in the works, I’ve been considering my blog in the past two weeks. It’s not a particularly high-traffic website, and serves primarily to let readers, friends, and family know what’s been going through my head recently. Since it represents very few conversions to sales, and takes several hours to craft each time I post, I will be cutting back the number of posts–likely to once every 2-3 weeks, unless I have a book review I feel compelled to share.

Part of the reason for this has also been an ongoing conversation with hubs about focusing on those elements of our lives that bring us the most satisfaction. As introverts, we face the holiday season with a lot of cringing. Being in loud, boisterous environments is draining–even if there end up being a couple people present who we genuinely enjoy. We started experimenting with just saying no to attending large gatherings. Given how much better we felt, that is likely to continue.

There are other reasons to retreat from a busy social calendar, too. Articles I read recently point to other pitfalls of modern living. One written about the millennial generation, which is younger than both of us, still addressed the stress and burnout we’ve been dealing with… for similar reasons. The reality most authors (and artists) face is that we’re working day jobs and squeezing out productivity from the hours others might dedicate to their extended families and friends, or hobbies done just for the fun of it, not for overcoming the ubiquity of living paycheck to paycheck and looking for additional income streams. Or working in an industry known for its ability to drive women out of its ranks. Unsurprisingly, these stresses in my generation are trickling down to the next generation in even more pernicious ways.

On the flip side, there were a number of articles proclaiming their joy at works with an authorized publication date of 1923 being released into the public domain. (I will be curious to see whether anyone does something creative with Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, which featured on this list.) Similarly, Isaac Asimov made some astute predictions on the eve of 1984 about the nature of our world now. His points about the changing requirements of our workforce in the face of “computerization”, and how those would require changes in education have compelling echoes in the last article I linked to in the previous paragraph.

In news that provokes my scifi author brain, two other articles rounded out my online reading. The first reviewed recent studies in genetics that point to the need for a radical revision of the gene concept: “The utility of the concept of a basic ‘unit of inheritance’ and the long implicit belief that genes are autonomous agents” means researchers are finding much broader context for genes’ activities. In fact, some studies seem to point to the idea that genes are responding to the community of cells around them much more than simply driving creation of their replicas. In my mind, this has a provocative link to the article I read about quantum computers. Recent research in that field indicates the existence of an intrinsic error-correction mechanism that could also explain the robustness of space-time. In 2014, physicists looking to fix the daunting error rates of qubits discovered “a deep connection between quantum error correction and the nature of space, time, and gravity.”

Could it be that genetics and physics are converging on something akin to a holographic view? It’s a question that has my story brain hopping, though I’ve been too busy with day-job related efforts and the remnants of the final few holiday obligations we accepted to do anything much about it. Still, I managed three days of writing so far this month, producing 547 words after a complete stand-still in December. Hubs and I have formed a creative pact to finish what we’re working on by the end of May, so maybe having a partner in art at home will push us both to reach our goals.

The nature of the world being what it is, there is more than a little truth to the graphic I included with today’s post (courtesy of hubs’ Reddit scrolling). I enjoy blogging as a way of tracking where some of my ideas originate or are fleshed out. And as a way of holding myself publicly accountable for progress on my writing. But given the increasing time constraints in our lives, it seems best to focus my efforts further by cutting back on a few things that don’t offer much return. So I’ll be back (here) when the spirit moves me, but I’ll always be around in my books.

Thoughts and Plans

Triathlete: Eating, Reading, Sleeping

It’s officially the last day of 2018 as I start writing this, so my final check-in of the year isn’t even on my regular blogging day. Sometime in the course of this year, my blogging goals shifted on me in a way I’m not entirely clear about just yet. The quarterly ROW80 “sprints” drift in time the same way I do. It’s difficult to feel committed to any of those deadlines when life happens with such regularity.

And yet, I like having a spot to check in–if not weekly, at least semi-monthly. Where I can consider some of the things I’ve read and keep track of old articles that keep bumping through my brain.

In the past week, for instance, medical researchers published a finding about parachutes being useless that highlighted quite a few of the pitfalls of experimental design. And I learned about a charity that makes a practice of buying medical debts in the US to be able to wipe them out. As well as the impact of the ridiculous cost of housing in California, that is pushing more and more people to live out of converted vans. Finally, there was a woman who learned at 50 that her father was not the man she’d been raised to believe he was.

Each of these stories is a unique reflection of the time and place in which I live–as well as being a leading indicator for why I’ve been spending an outsized portion of my time immersed in fiction. According to my Goodreads Reading Challenge page, I’ve read 85 books this year. From what I recall, only one of those was a paperback, and a disproportionate number were romances of various stripes. The original moniker for my blog (A Book A Day) has never been more true than in the past week, as I’ve spent each of my evenings churning through yet another novel. So when I stumbled across the cute image I’m including in this week’s edition on Twitter, it felt entirely appropriate.

This year, despite focusing on a genre that I know will deliver a happy ending, I’ve broadened my stable of favorite authors. I’ve discovered Alyssa Cole, Ekaterine Xia, Holley Trent, CE Murphy, Seanan McGuire, Olivia Dade, and Vivian Arend. Many of these authors are on Twitter, too, so I get treated to their thoughts on other topics (including their various 4-footed friends) as well as the outstanding fiction they produce. I’m thrilled that my old favorites keep coming up with new stories, too. I’m as much of a voracious reader as I ever was, though it’s odd to have numbers that quantify what that means–that it’s not unusual for me to read 2-3 books per week. But getting back to the triathlete image… retreating as thoroughly as I have this year into fiction suggests a level of escapism that means I should probably work for a bit more balance in my choice of pursuits.

Which brings me to a blog post by one of the people in my Triberr groups: How to choose a word for the upcoming year. I’m tempted by several: tranquil, work, balance, and focus. (Though, honestly, that last word now only plays in my head in the evil “I’m hypnotizing you” way that the character in the Marvel “Agents of SHIELD” said it… so it might not mean *exactly* what its dictionary definition is to me anymore.) Hubs and I will be discussing this later today to see whether we can refine a vision for the new year that lets us reach some of our goals.

So I’ll return in the new year with my thoughts and plans and see whether I can find balance in my various interests and pursuits.

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