Welcome to the two hundred and eighty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with multi-genre author Sandra Yuen MacKay. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Sandra. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Sandra: Journaling was a great aid to me through difficult times. Creating characters and plots were a way to channel my intense imagination and positive and negative energies. I joined a writers’ group and my passion just grew from there.
Morgen: Mine too (a critique workshop). 🙂 What genre do you generally write?
Sandra: I’m definitely a multi-genre author. I’ve explored autobiographical work, science fiction, humour, speculative fiction, and general fiction.
Morgen: Me too. Well, not autobiog or sci-fi but a mixture of pretty much everything else. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Sandra: My Schizophrenic Life: The Road to Recovery from Mental Illness is available on Amazon and Smashwords. It’s a true story about my recovery from schizoaffective disorder. Hell’s Fire a science fiction eBook is available on those two sites. My pen name is Sandra Yuen MacKay which incorporates my Chinese maiden name.
Morgen: What was your experience of the eBook process? Do you read eBooks?
Sandra: I self-published Hell’s Fire, so I had to learn the formatting. I do read eBooks on my computer but I’ve yet to acquire an eBook reader. I like eBooks because they are less expensive, take no time to ship, and don’t take up shelf space.
Morgen: That’s why they’re so popular – plus from an author’s point of view it’s quick to publish and you can make tweaks in just a few minutes. Have you had any rejections?
Sandra: Yes, I keep them in a binder. I have some good writer friends who view me as a talented writer despite rejections I may receive. They keep me going. Rejection letters sometimes offer insightful feedback and spur me to try again. I chalk it up to a learning experience.
Morgen: The best way to look at it – just the right thing for the wrong person. How much of the marketing did you do for your memoir?
Sandra: When my memoir was released, I had a successful book launch which I organized. I am also a public speaker on recovery, so I would mention my book in talks to students, families, other mental health consumers, and people who work in the field. I was the subject of the documentary Psychopia and was interviewed for other audio and video broadcasts locally and in the U.S.
Morgen: Many authors are scared of public speaking (certainly the first time). I’ve done very little and get very warm… I definitely need more practice! Did you have any say in the covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Sandra: I designed both of my book covers with my own artwork and photography. I think the look of a book is a huge selling point.
Morgen: There’s a debate going on in LinkedIn at the moment where the thread is split between those who think they’re vital and those who don’t. If there’s an attractive cover or a dull one side-by-side most people would pick up the attractive one and if the content grabs them they may not get to the second. I think it’s especially important to have a colourful (or at least striking) cover with eBooks because they’re so small. What are you working on at the moment?
Sandra: Currently, I’m working on a story about a Chinese girl coming of age in Canada and her battle with bullying, finding her way, sacrifice, and search for love and fulfilment.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Sandra: I try to write regularly. I did have a huge case of writer’s block last year, but I pushed through it by taking a break, doing other activities, and coming back with a fresh perspective. I read articles and books on writing as well. The solution: Take a risk and challenge oneself. “Success is 99% failure” Soichiro Honda
Morgen: 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Sandra: I might have a basic outline, but once I start writing more subplots come to mind. The story is never how I first envisioned it.
Morgen: That’s what I (usually) love about writing – the not knowing what’s going to come out and (usually) exciting me. 🙂 Do you have a method for creating your characters and for making them believable?
Sandra: As a fairly new writer, I draw mostly from personal experience. I think if people can identify with me, they will identify with my writing.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Sandra: I do a lot of editing and try different ways to approach a chapter. I think about the impact and outcome of a scene and how it furthers the plot.
Morgen: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc., do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Sandra: Silence definitely!
Morgen: I go for silence or classical music. For me, words impinge on words. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Sandra: My favourite aspect about writing is that I can see an end result of the creative process. I can take chances but have the control to press ‘delete’ if it doesn’t turn out as planned. My least favourite aspect is that I can’t get to sleep at night because my mind is buzzing with ideas from late evenings of writing.
Morgen: Most would say better that way than blocked. I tend to have different versions of something rather than delete because I never know when the deletion might come in handy. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Sandra: Read, write and show your work to other writers. Get feedback when you can but be selective in what advice you listen to. Work on your craft and always be on the lookout for new ideas or situations that might spark a story. Finding a publisher depends on not only quality of your work, but also marketability, economics, who you know, your track record as a writer, and a bit of luck. Spend a lot of time to make query letters and synopses succinct and engaging.
Morgen: It’s all about practice and second opinions are great; I belong to four writing groups and have an editor so the feedback is often different so I can pick the most useful, often something that had never occurred to me. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook?
Sandra: John Wayne, Lucille Ball and Harrison Ford. I would serve chow mein, sushi and fried chicken and hide the takeaway containers.
Morgen: Yum. Can I make that four people? 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Morgen: That’s definitely great practice. Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Sandra: One of my interests is to read how-to books on writing. I’ve read a lot but some are better than others. Currently, I’m reading Beginnings, Middles, & Ends by Nancy Kress.
Morgen: I’ve heard good things about that one. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ is the highest recommended so far here. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Sandra: Facebook, Goodreads, Linkedin mostly. I think it’s great for meeting other writers and people with similar interests. It keeps me motivated and connected.
Morgen: Isn’t it great. I joined Goodreads when it picked up one of my books (and a Google Alert told me) but all I’ve done since then is click on accept when friend requests come in. I will investigate once the day job goes (in six working days, but who’s counting?). 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Sandra: Hopefully for me, another published book! But generally speaking, the market is really changing. There’s more growth in self-publishing, ebooks and interactive types of books with hyperlinks, video and audio related to the text. With all the competition out there, it’s really important to have a polished, professional quality in one’s writing and promote one’s work through blogs, word of mouth, and social networks.
Morgen: Absolutely. Another LinkedIn (sometimes heated) discussion was where a chap said he wasn’t going to get his writing edited but just put it up. From memory, no-one agreed with him. Fair enough if you only belong to a critique group only have ten or fifteen minutes of critique a week / fortnight / month then it would take forever to work through a novel (plus audible critique can’t be as thorough as hand-written red pen / on-screen edits) but to do nothing really isn’t sensible. There are the likes of http://autocrit.com but it’s not just about spelling mistakes, repetitions etc. My guys (and gals :)) have come up with some wonderful suggestions. My editor is my only expense with my eBooks and it’ll take a while for my sales to cover that cost but I’m in it for the long-haul and if someone remembers me I want it to be for all the right reasons. 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work, Sandra?
Sandra: My blog with links to my art, reviews and interviews: Letters from Sandra
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Sandra: Morgen, I think it’s wonderful that you are able to support so many writers. Thank you for interviewing me.
Morgen: 🙂 You’re very welcome. I’m really enjoying chatting with everyone. And thank you for your time today.
I then invited Sandra to include some of her writing and here follows an excerpt from ‘My Schizophrenic Life’:
My sister Penny and I decided to walk downtown from our house. It was a long way but we could window-shop and have lunch downtown. We started on our way. I thought I heard the boys’ voices over the sounds of the traffic even though I couldn’t see them. When we crossed the Granville Street Bridge, I saw two figures following us. One wore white pants. I wondered if they were tailing us. I thought one of them might be Taylor.
“Does anything seem odd to you?” I asked Penny. “Do you think we are being followed?”
“No. Are you trying to scare me?” she said. I shook my head. I didn’t say anything else, but continued to look back with worried glances.
By the time we got downtown, I couldn’t hear or see anyone following us.
The voices I heard were real to me. Logically, it’s impossible to hear people talking at normal volume from sixty yards away on a busy street or bridge. It was like I was in a vacuum where I could hear things very acutely. I thought I had super-hearing like a comic book hero.
Sandra Yuen MacKay has a Fine Arts Diploma from Langara College and a degree in art history from the University of British Columbia. She has published poetry, articles on mental health, flash fiction, and longer works. After publishing her memoir, she now hopes to move more into fictional writing.
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