Interview with Sunny Moraine
Sunny Moraine is an author with many published short stories, as well as two published novels, Line and Orbit (written with Lisa Soem) and Crowflight and while I’ll admit to being a teeny little bit biased, both novels are truly incredible. The writing in both novels is engaging and rich and the world building is some of the most breathtaking I’ve ever read. I’ve been friends with Sunny for a long time and have been lucky enough not only to watch their transition from fan fiction to original fiction, but to have their support for my own writing and getting this chance to interview them for the website is extremely exciting for me. You can find Sunny’s personal blog here, their twitter here and their goodreads page here!
Now onto the questions!
Something I’ve always found difficult for myself as a writer is collaborative writing in terms of a full novel. How did you find the process of writing with Lisa Soem? What were some of the challenges and how did you two work around them?
The primary challenge was actually finding a way to make our work schedules flow together in such a way that the draft didn’t end up sitting untouched for weeks (which is how books die, at least for me). We were both graduate students at the time – I’m now a dissertating PhD candidate, Lisa has since graduated with her doctorate – but in very different fields and with very different time commitments and workloads, which admittedly made things difficult. We also had different working styles, and bringing those into harmony was definitely a challenge. Lisa actually ended up having to bow out of writing the second book because she needed to focus on the last part of her graduation requirements. Making a writing career work with a day job/whatever other responsibilities you have tends to be hard for everyone trying to do it, I think.
But aside from those difficulties, the process itself was a delight. It turned out that we had very similar styles and approaches to the material, and playing off someone else’s imagination in creating this world and these characters kept everything fresh and vital. We had complimentary strengths that worked very well together. Keeping up motivation and excitement tends to be one of the hardest parts of any long project, and being able to cheerlead each other was a huge element of what got us both through the thing.
How was the initial process of finding a publisher for your novels? Have you struggled with that at all? What was your experience?
At the time I thought it was difficult, but now I’ve come to understand that we actually had an easier time of it than many people do. One of the major factors in determining how it went was the fact that we were both unagented and were pitching the book directly to publishers, which isn’t always harder but I think frequently is. We started with some of the large SF&F publishers and then some of the more well known smaller publishers, but in the end we decided that a small(ish) romance publisher would be the best way to go and a contact graciously helped put the manuscript in front of an acquisitions editor at Samhain Publishing, thereby allowing us to skip the general slushpile (always a significant plus).
But finding a home for a book is usually going to be somewhat fraught, I think. With some books it’s been relatively easy for me – The Casting the Bones trilogy had a hard time with agents but it found a home with Masque Books fairly quickly – but with a couple it’s been an uphill climb. The publishing landscape has changed enormously with the rise of ebooks and the smaller companies that focus on them, and while once an agent was pretty much a necessity if you wanted to sell a novel, it no longer is, depending on who you want to sell it to. I’m in the process of finding an agent now because I’m at a point in my career where I think I pretty much need one, but so far every book I’ve sold (and to date I’ve sold five) has been unagented. There are a lot of options for writers at the moment, which does make some things easier, and which is part of why I tend to have very little patience for anyone who suggests that there’s only one right way to get things done.
Why do you write?
Because I literally don’t know how not to. I really think I wouldn’t be able to stop if I tried. At least, in terms of storytelling that’s the case – the drive to imagine and create. Writing itself is work, something that I often have to make myself do. I’ve learned not to bank on inspiration alone. But ultimately I do it because I need to, and because when it’s really going well it’s one of the most viscerally fulfilling things I do.
Can you tell us a little more about both series and where you hope to go with them?
Casting the Bones is about a young girl in training to be a guide for the souls of the dead from one world to another, who falls into the middle of a massive conspiracy to restore an ancient and evil force to power. I’m currently in the process of writing the third and final book in that trilogy, and I think that will be the end of it. I’ve done almost everything I wanted to do with that story and those characters and I don’t see any more books happening in that world. The two remaining books in the series – Ravenfall and Rookwar – deal with the larger conflict that Crowflight set up; Turn has a great deal more to do in terms of saving her people, the worlds of Sol and Nicht, and defeating the mysterious and sinister Moravici. She remains ambivalent about the task she’s been given, and that ambivalence is something the books continue to explore. Especially since at the end of Ravenfall she’s dealt a devastating injury from which she may not ever recover. Her efforts to come to terms with that injury seem like they’ll be a major part of at least the first half of Rookwar. I’m able-bodied myself, so writing a character with a disability is something I’m trying to handle very carefully.
Line and Orbit, on the other hand, is pure tropey space opera/science fantasy, about two societies at odds and the man who has the potential to bring the two together. The first book did very well, but the other books in that trilogy have had a somewhat difficult existence. As of now the second book – Fall and Rising – has no publisher, and the third and final book hasn’t been written (for time reasons more than anything else; I’ve had to put it on the backburner in favor of other things). I may end up self-publishing Fall and Rising, but the costs associated with doing so in the way I’d want to do it present something of a challenge.
The book itself is actually a second and very different take compared to my first go-round, but essentially it deals with the rise of a resistance within the Terran Protectorate itself. Line and Orbit left the future of the Protectorate in doubt – would they face the congenital illness that threatens to destroy them, or would they continue to try to cover it up? Fall and Rising answers those questions, and it sets up the apocalyptic showdown between the Bideshi and the Protectorate – and the Protectorate and itself – that I have planned for the third book.
What are your thoughts on writing a series as opposed to a stand alone novel? What challenges have you faced there?
If a novel is a marathon as compared to a short story’s sprint, a series is an ultramarathon. It’s ugly, it’s fairly miserable, your body does horrifying things to itself, and at the end I expect to collapse and just sort of lie there twitching feebly and moaning. So one of the difficulties lies in finishing and sustaining a story for that long while making sure that each book is consistent with the one before, but another practical issue I’ve found is simply selling the things. With Masque it was easy since they took all of Casting the Bones in one shot, but again, Line and Orbit has been much harder. For any new writer hoping to sell a series, my primary piece of advice would be to write at least the first two books, outline the third or third and fourth if it’s larger than a trilogy, and shop it around as a whole. Not selling Line and Orbit as a series was, in retrospect, a mistake, but it was also sort of unavoidable given that we didn’t know for sure that we’d be doing a sequel.
By contrast, my standalone novel Labyrinthian (set in the Line and Orbit universe and getting a release from Samhain this coming January) was so fast and so delightful, and when it was done it was done. Which felt great.
Do you proofread or edit your own work or do you have someone assist with it?
Generally I proofread and edit by myself, partly because I like to work very quickly and I’ve found that depending on someone else’s timeframe isn’t always ideal. But I always miss things. This is why a great editor on the publisher end is worth their weight in gold. I’ve had books torn to shreds, which is never fun, but it almost always results in a much better product.
How much of your time do you devote to marketing your work? Do you have any advice for those in terms of marketing and getting the word out there?
I probably don’t spend enough time on it, and a major reason for that is that I’m just not very good at it. It always feels awkward. But increasingly it’s necessary; publishers often don’t have the marketing budgets they used to, and it’s becoming more routine for authors to shoulder a large portion of the marketing themselves.
So I’m probably not the best person to be giving advice there, but first I’d develop a strong web presence, especially on sites like Twitter. But don’t use that presence primarily for marketing – instead produce actual content, whether it’s in terms of blogging regularly or just being entertaining and erudite in 140 characters. After that, I’d say one of the best things an author can do is freebies/cheapies – giveaways, excerpts, contests, and, if possible, discounts. If you have a series, discounting the first book when the second comes out often does a lot to generate sales, or so I’ve been told. Also, go to cons and get on the program if possible; one of the things I’ve found is that panels and readings are a great way to promote your work, especially if you’re able to be charismatic in public. And even if you can’t for whatever reason, having your face and your name out there is very helpful.
Who designed the covers and how were you connected with the designers?
The cover for Line and Orbit was designed in-house by Kanaxa, a very talented artist who does a lot of Samhain’s covers. The covers for the Casting the Bones trilogy are also being done in-house by Sherin Nicole, who did an amazing job with Crowflight. I’ve seen the mockup for Ravenfall and I can’t wait to reveal it.
Both artists have been great to work with. We’ve started with a brief questionnaire that covers the major aspects of the book – characters, mood, important images, etc. – and then once a mockup is made we’ve gone back and forth with any changes that seem indicated. One of the things that I’ve really appreciated about both Samhain and Masque is how involved they’ve allowed me to be with the cover design – not every publisher does that, and covers are enormously important to me (I actually did the cover design for Scheherazade’s Facade, an anthology I was in a while back).
Can you describe the mundane details of your personal writing experience? How do you write, for how long, where do you find you work the best or where do you most often work?
I generally work in the morning, in part because I’ve found that later in the day I’m more tired and the work is more difficult. I have a minimum daily wordcount of anywhere from 500 to 3000 words, depending on time constraints and where in the project I am, which usually results in an hour or two of work. 500 words are for days when I’m struggling and need to give myself a break, while 3k words are for days where I’m really flying or for when I’m very close to being done with something and need to push hard. Right now I’m working on two novels simultaneously – one Rookwar and one a standalone set in the Line and Orbit universe – and I’m trying to get in 1k a day on each.
In terms of where – really anywhere reasonably quiet and where I can be left alone. I often put on instrumental/ambient music – I tend to hear writing in my head and music with lyrics is too distracting. Favorites are Cliff Martinez, Jon Hopkins, BT, and Oneohtrix Point Never.
What are you reading right now? Are there any books/short stories/collections on the horizon you’re excited about?
I’m trying to catch up on novels, mostly. I’m currently reading Sofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, which has been getting award nominations left and right and which is seriously great so far. Lots of lush description. Next up is Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which I’ve been meaning to read for months given that it’s also raking in award nominations and is being raved about by everyone whose taste I trust.
Aside from that, my Firefox tabs are mostly short stories that have backed up – hopefully by the time this is posted I’ll have read some of them. Particular ones are E. Catherine Tobler’s “Migratory Patterns of Underground Birds” in May’s issue of Clarkesworld, Sarah Pinsker’s Sturgeon-nominated “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind” in Strange Horizons, Kai Ashante Wilson’s “The Devil in America” at Tor.com, and Damien Angelica Walters’s “This is the Way I Die” in May’s issue of Nightmare.
And, somewhat selfishly, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History gets released this month and I’d be so excited for that even if I wasn’t in it. We need more anthologies like it, and given that I’ve read it I can promise that it’s amazing.
Sunny Moraine is a humanoid creature of average height, luminosity, and inertial mass. They’re also a doctoral candidate in sociology and a writer–like object whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Shimmer, Clarkesworld, Apex,and Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History, as well as multiple Year’s Best anthologies, all of which has provided lovely reasons to avoid a dissertation. Their first novel Line and Orbit, co–written with Lisa Soem, is available from Samhain Publishing. Their solo–authored novel Crowflight is available from Masque Books. They unfortunately live near Washington DC with a husband and two cats.