An interview with Alycia Christine, debuting author of Musings.
So, how many books have you written?
I’ve written three books and numerous short stories. My first published fiction book Musings is a short story collection that just released in June 2014.
What’s your background?
I grew up near the dusty cotton fields of Lubbock, Texas. I fell in love with fantasy and science fiction stories when my father first read Gordon R. Dickson’s THE DRAGON AND THE GEORGE and Robert A. Heinlein’s HAVE SPACESUIT—WILL TRAVEL to me at age ten. However, it wasn’t until I took a creative writing course while attending Texas A&M University that my passion for reading transformed into a yearning to write. After that class, I was hooked as a writer for life. My subsequent B.S. degree in agricultural journalism not only helped to hone my skills with a pen, but also with a camera. Today I use my skills as a photographer to capture the beauty of the world around me and add additional perspective to my fiction and nonfiction writing.
How did you become a writer?
I was a terrible reader as a child. When I was in kindergarten, I came home from school every day and cried because I just couldn’t make the teacher’s patterns of letters make sense as words in my mind. To help alleviate my frustration, my parents enrolled me in special education classes to boost my reading skills and my confidence. During my homework hours, Dad would read my textbooks aloud as I followed along while Mom corrected my English papers side by side with me. The combination of those three things vastly improved my reading and writing abilities. By the time I was 11, I could read college level material, but my speed was still three times slower than most of my peers. I hated reading because it was so difficult until my father stepped in once again.
During my summer vacations from school, Dad would read novels aloud to Mom and me as a fun way to pass the time. Every vacation or family holiday became a doubly-special event because each holiday meant a road trip during which Dad would crack open a new adventure. Soon I came to a point in which just reading along with Dad was not enough. In some cases I would actually steal the book and read ahead when Dad was tired.
Dad read books to me well into my college years and it was those stories that helped me realize a joy for reading that stretched beyond the tedious necessity of the classroom. My fondness for reading shifted into a passion for writing during my college career when I took my first creative writing and journalism courses as a sophomore at Texas A&M University. Suddenly I had the ability to actively participate in my own written adventures, not just read along while someone else’s characters trekked around in their own world.
It wasn’t until after college that I began to write in earnest. I wrote sporadically through the years occupied by my first three jobs—learning the fiction writing trade little by little. Writing, like reading, is always an uphill struggle for me, but the reward of the adventure is always worth the effort of the journey.
What inspires you as a writer?
I love a good story—whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. I adore learning about different people, creatures, and cultures and that passionate curiosity inevitably flows into my writing.
Why did you decide to write Musings?
Early in 2013, I was organizing a few of my computer’s short story files and I suddenly realized how many of them I had written, but not yet published. I began making lists of which stories I thought would work well together in a collection. After much trial and error, I had a good combination of stories and poetry ready to be professionally edited in early 2014. The project took longer than what I had anticipated, but it was worth the extra time to make sure that I had a solid anthology.
As to why I write short stories in the first place, I think short stories are a proving ground for writers. If I, as an author, can first achieve success through writing a short story, then it is much easier for me to take the skills well learned and translate them into a longer fiction form. Thus a powerful short story can sometimes build an author’s career faster than a novel because its smaller word count takes less time to write, but also makes each word used in building the tale more important.
Do you write every day?
I don’t write every day, but I do write three to five times each week. I have a minimum weekly word count that I try to beat by the end of each Friday and that helps me accomplish my monthly and yearly writing goals.
What helps you finish writing a story?
I’m the type of reader who has to know how the story ends. There are very few books that I don’t ever finish reading for that specific reason. When I write, I fall in love with my characters. What keeps me writing through every frustration is my need to find out what happens to my characters through the end of the story. Even if I already have a good idea of what the story’s conclusion is going to be, I still can’t keep myself from writing because I have to find out exactly how it happens.
What is your favorite procrastination when you just don’t feel like writing?
Reading. I’ve occasionally been known to push writing aside for half of a week if I’m in the middle of a good book. Of course, it’s all in the name of fiction-writing research, right?
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from being a writer?
No one can be a good writer without patience, perseverance, and persistence. It takes all of those traits to succeed in something as monumental as turning an idea into several thousand words of cohesive, riveting story. Since I’m not all that patient, my only consolation throughout all of my hard work is the fact that I am just stubborn enough to keep trying.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
I was in a unique position in 2014. I had received several rejection letters from publishers and agents over my first novel Skinshifter as well as many of my individual short stories. However, two of my short stories had been traditionally published and I had several beta readers absolutely loving my unpublished work and demanding more. I had experimented with independent publishing on an unrelated project, but saw little success with that book because I had no idea how to effectively market the material. I felt far more confident with Musings because I really know the work’s intended audience: fantasy and science fiction lovers like me.
Rather than wait for some big publishing fish to catch interest in my writing bait, I decided to give my readers what they wanted: my work, now. I took the leap of faith to hire a professional editor and publish the book through my own company Purple Thorn Press. My goal in all of this is to give my readers as much quality reading as I can for the best price possible. How far will this experiment go? I have no idea. I only hope to entertain and inspire as many people as I can and financially support my family through my work.
How hard was it to self-publish?
Because I have a graphic design and journalism background, self-publishing itself was relatively easy. I hired a wonderful editor for my work and together we made sure the book’s writing was as high quality as we could make it. By the time I was putting Musings together, I had been shooting photography and pairing it with graphic design elements for years, so I was able to produce a beautiful cover for the book using my own artwork. I also understood the basics of formatting a manuscript into a print book thanks to my work with magazine creation, so creating a professionally formatted book interior took very little time. Figuring out different e-book formats took a little longer than expected, but I eventually solved that problem, too. What was and probably will always prove tricky for me is marketing and, of course, the writing itself.
What advice would you share with new authors about self-publishing?
Whether you are self-published or traditionally published, professionalism matters. Always present yourself well to others no matter what format you use to communicate. Make sure that everything you produce is of the best quality. Always edit your books, emails, website blogs, and social media posts before you share them with the world. Always be courteous to others and treat every person with respect whether you like them or not. As an author, you are your own brand and your own business. Make it easy for others to see your brand as something of value.
Since you are your own business, make sure that you understand how to run a business. You and you alone are ultimately responsible for product quality control, payment of bills and taxes, profit and loss margins, etc. Do your research and know your business.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Join a critique group. Get in the habit of having your work reviewed by others because reviews happen all the time once you are published. Once you can comfortably take others’ criticism and use it to make your work better, you are that much closer to being a professional writer. However, do not publish your work until your beta readers and editors say that it is ready for a wider audience. Professional authors write often and write well. They also rewrite often.
What is the strangest thing that has happened to you as a writer?
The strangest thing that has happened to me as a writer, is actually something occurs a lot. Often when I tell people that I am a fiction writer, they take one look at me and then begin this seemingly-prepared speech about how they have always wanted to write a book about this certain topic. They then turn to me and tell me that I should write the book for them because it would be so easy and it would make both of us rich! I politely turn them down. While I don’t fault the enthusiasm, I have no intention of ever being someone’s ghostwriter. I did my fair share of ghostwriting when I was a newspaper journalist and I don’t ever want to do it again.
What makes writing worthwhile?
Writing is hard. There is no way around that fact. What makes writing worth the effort is when I get to witness readers’ positive reactions to my work. My readers and my characters themselves make all the difficulties of writing worth the effort.
Do you have any new projects in the works?
Right now, I’m writing a fantasy novella called Thorn and Thistle about a pirate captain who agrees to secretly ferry a dryad noble with a bounty on her head to safety. He, of course, gets way more than he bargained for in the process. As soon as I finish it, I’ll return to my work on the Sylvan Cycle series. I just finished the rough draft of Dreamdrifter, the second book in the series, in May. As soon as that manuscript is in better shape, I’ll work on the third book.