Good Day Buzzing Bookworms.
It’s an honour to introduce you to a phenomenal Sci-Fi / Fantasy author, Sonya Kudei.
Introducing Sonya Kudei
Born in Zagreb in 1981, Sonya Kudei has been writing fiction since she was about six. Once (or maybe twice) in the mid or late ‘90s, she was awarded first prize in the junior short story competition at the annual Zagreb Sci-Fi convention.
On to our Author Interview with Sonya
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both! Coming up with new ideas energizes me, but the writing itself is exhausting. I’m an ideas person, and I spend about 90% of an average writing session brainstorming new concepts, sketching ideas out or drawing digital concept designs. I see the actual writing as the output, with the ideas being the input. The “writerly” part of writing often makes me feel like my own secretary – someone who merely records the thoughts that the creative part of me has generated. And I always find this the most exhausting part of the process. To me, working with text often feels like mental torture, especially if the text is very long. The late-stage drafts of Black Queen, White City were an ordeal.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
In a way, I’m already writing under a pseudonym. “Sonya Kudei” is a simplified version of my real name, which is too complicated for most English-speaking people. But as I’ve been using it for a while, I’ve now grown used to it, and it doesn’t feel like a pseudonym anymore.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
My aim is to find a balance between the two poles. In the case of Black Queen, White City, the main idea behind it is fairly idiosyncratic, since it’s based on my experiences growing up in the “White City” (Zagreb) and the various weird things I have watched, read and listened to over the years (including trashy Sci-Fi movies, Renaissance-era magical philosophy and black metal). At the same time, I have made sure to draw on familiar archetypes, tropes and pop culture references to ground this potentially alien concept in a framework that most people, regardless of their background, should be comfortable with.
- Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
To be a good writer, one has to primarily be a good observer. As for the emotional side, I suppose someone who doesn’t feel emotions strongly could still be a competent writer, providing that they are a keen observer, although their writing might come across as detached and clinical. But this needn’t be entirely bad. In certain genres, e.g. “hard” SciFi, this kind of unfeeling approach has been used effectively, and it can also come in handy for satire.
- What other authors are you friends with, and do they help you to become a better writer? If so, how?
I have received a ton of helpful feedback from fellow writers, which has helped me figure out how my writing is perceived. When you’re working on a big writing project, such as a novel, you tend to be stuck in your head. As a result, you might not be able to perceive all aspects of it accurately, since it’s easy to get overwhelmed by your own preconceptions. But having a feedback loop with someone who understands these issues, because they’re basically in the same boat, can help you check whether your original intention is aligned with the way it’s perceived from the outside.
- What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Buying a Scrivener license. This was undoubtedly the best investment I ever made as a writer. I don’t know how I would have finished Black Queen, White City without it. At some point, the manuscript became so complex that it had about twenty different versions, each with its own storylines and approximately 10,000 sub-folders. With Scrivener, I was able to organize all this data in a (relatively) sane way.
- What do you consider the best ways to market your books?
I think the most efficient marketing method is being proactive and approaching people directly, rather than shouting into the ether and hoping to be heard (as most of social media tends to be like). Of course, I might be wrong! But I’m always ready to adjust course if a particular plan doesn’t seem to be working.
8. What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I tend to write from a kind of elevated point of view – like a super-user or admin user on a computer, who can access all the settings – where I’m outside and above gender or any other kind of socially manufactured identity. You might say that I feel quite at home being an omniscient narrator. And when I’m in this omniscient mode, there is no opposite sex. I see everyone the same way.
9. What did you edit out of this book?
What did I not edit out? I edited out whole storylines, including some of my favorite scenes and even a few characters. The rough draft of Black Queen, White City was a
messy, bloated 160,000-word monstrosity that would have made an average Victorian novelist proud. Trying to edit it was agonizing – even so much as looking at it made me fall into despair. In the end, I realized that the only way to finally finish the book without turning into a raving lunatic was to be ruthless. So I ended up cutting over 60,000 words. And it felt good – the new, slimmed-down version is ten times better than the old one.
- What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Unproductive leisurely activities such as watching TV. But I’ve pretty much done that, as I haven’t owned a TV for over 10 years, and I don’t have a Netflix subscription either!
- Does your family support your career as a writer?
Yes, they have been very supportive. I started writing when I was about five, and by the time I was ten I was already making my own hand-made books, so I suppose they must have realized early on that any resistance would be futile.
- How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It’s hard to say, because I don’t write in a linear way, from start to finish. Instead, I tend to let my ideas evolve in an almost “organic” way. What this means in practical terms is that one day I could complete what looks like a finished draft of a book, and then the
next day I might have a flash of inspiration that could turn the erstwhile complete draft into just another working draft for the new idea (this is how I always end up with dozens of versions of the same story!)
For example, with Black Queen, White City, I thought I had a manuscript that was
finished –polished even!
So, I pitched the book to an agent, who liked it and requested the full manuscript. But on the same day I suddenly got an exciting idea that made me want to turn the main storyline with the “star daimon” protagonist Leo into a more complex narrative that would involve the entire star daimon universe. So I told the agent I couldn’t send her the manuscript right away (I invented what I hoped was a plausible-sounding excuse) and then proceeded to rewrite the whole novel in a week! And I’m glad I did it, because the book is so much richer as a result.
But to answer your question, it took me three years of nearly full-time writing to complete Black Queen, White City, and that is excluding the five or six years I spent
toying with the concept. I am also working on another book, which has already been in development for over two years. I guess the short answer is – it takes ages!
Thank you for joining us on our first Writer Wednesday.
If you’d like to check out Sonya Kudei, you can find her at the sites below:
Thanks for reading.