Monday, August 2, 2010

Author Interview: P. J. Schnyder

I'm pleased to present this interview with PJ Schnyder, debut author and faithful MSFV contributor!

AUTHORESS: Prior to entering Heart's Sentinel in the Secret Agent contest, what did your journey look like? How long had you worked on it, and how many other projects preceded it?

PJ: I've been writing for a long time. :P I'd received minor achievements for essays and poetry in school but my parents felt I should focus on a "real career" and things that would get me into college with a "real major". Still, reading was a huge factor in keeping my sanity. It gave me a way to escape and unwind, to dream a little. I continued to write for the same reasons.

I read voraciously and wrote even after college because I loved it, all while I was building a career - the "day job". There was a time there when it never occurred to me to seek out publication. My stories were more like diaries, infused with fits and figments of my imagination, rather than publish quality works to be shared with everyone.

But I started to research the craft of writing more, online. I figured, since I loved it so much, I should work to improve. I wrote Mischief's Daughter for NaNoWriMo in 2008 and spent months revising it. Finally, I decided to take the plunge and send it out for query to agents. While I was waiting, I wrote a short story titled Full Disclosure for a call to submissions by Samhain. While I was waiting for That response, I began outlining Heart's Sentinel.

It's extremely constructive to work on the next project while waiting for responses. Keeps me from eating my hair out of anxiety. ;)

The initial draft took me about 3 months to write. I still work the "day job" full time and travel for business a lot, so writing happens wherever I can squeeze in the time even if it means tucked into economy class a mile high. Draft and first round revision timed well with the Secret Agent Contest and I thought my manuscript was ready to roll, so I entered. I placed first runner up, and while Ms. Alspaugh did ultimately pass, she provided me with very constructive feedback.

AUTHORESS: So let's talk a little more about that "squeezing in" of writing time. Many writers are in a similar position--full time jobs, busy days as stay-at-home moms, life in general. With your already-demanding schedule, what is your approach to "writing time" that ensures you're productive? Especially now that you're writing to deadlines.

PJ: Before I sit down to write, I tend to go about a few other tasks that don't take 100% focus. I take a shower or do the dishes or exercise and I mull over my next writing session. When I sit down to write, I know where I'm going and I try to complete the scene so that it's a coherent thought from start to finish.

Also, I take a notes wherever I go. Plane, train or waiting room, if I see something that inspires me or have an epiphany I always jot down a few notes or store them in my blackberry. It helps me gather my thoughts for when I'm ready to write and triggers my memory.

The idea is to be ready and focused when I do have my writing time, taking the best advantage of the time I can grab to write after the day job is wrapped up for the evening or weekend.

AUTHORESS: Well, it obviously works, and it's excellent advice for all writers who feel the time crunch!

So how did you conceive Heart's Sentinal? What was your inspiration? And you're obviously not a pantser, since you've already used the "o" word. Do you have a certain method of outlining/plotting? And once you've written that first draft, do you love or hate the editing?

PJ: The opening scene of Heart's Sentinel was inspired by a real life experience. I wanted to take classes in Mixed Martial Arts and even though I was 28, I asked my father to come with me to check out the school. When we entered, an instructor greeted us and asked my father to sign a parental permission slip for me to take the trial class, having mistaken me for under 18. LOL. I was pretty intimidated that day, but the instructor made me laugh. It's a fabulous feeling being mistaken for over a decade younger than your real age.

Honestly, I'm sort of a hybrid between planner and pantser. I brain storm for a while to outline the major story events, but as I write each scene, my characters sometimes hijack the story and deviate from the plan in a major way - then I go back to my outline and re-plot. I color code my scenes for POV and also color the love and 'almost' love scenes red so I can take a high level view of when things start getting frisky and can decide if I want to add more sexual tension to the overall story.

Once the first draft is complete, I go through it for the main issues - I have a check list to help me remember my usual suspects. I wouldn't say I love or hate editing so much as require a fantastic playlist and lots of little breaks to get me through without liquefying my brain and having it ooze out the side of my head.

AUTHORESS: So when we see your author photo, we should mentally add ten years to however old we think you are. =)

You seem incredibly organized and I'm sure many readers will glean some wisdom and apply it to their own writing system. So what I want to know next is: Can you give us a teaser for Heart's Sentinel? Make us drool!


CHAPTER 1 (excerpt)

Adam knew every jaguar in River Gap Pride, and the woman who walked through the door wasn't one of them. He'd have remembered her sweet face framed in shoulder length hair, so dark a brown it shone black indoors. She must be new in town, come to stay in pride territory.

Pausing in the entryway to the dojo, her dark chocolate eyes scanned the foyer. When he approached, she tensed as if poised to bolt, but squared her shoulders and faced him anyway. Used to taming wild things, her response didn't bother him.

He gave her his friendliest smile. “Hi there, here for classes?”

People didn't get wilder than shapeshifters, and a fellow shifter stood before him. His inner beast growled, her scent exciting things deep inside his core. And yet, she had a newness about her, an awkwardness he associated with teens growing into their maturing bodies, even though she moved with more grace than any human.

“Yes.” Her answer came in a quiet, wary voice. “I was interested in beginner martial arts classes.” The melodic timbre sent shivers down his spine. “I spoke to Jacob. He told me my father and I would be expected.”

With those words, Adam knew her. His beast surged inside his skin, drowning him in the need to protect.

And, she needed protection. It was why she’d come to River Gap Pride.

An older man stepped in behind her, bearing a strong family resemblance, his dark skin weathered brown as opposed to her golden tan. His hand, worn with honest work and slightly wrinkled with age, came to rest on her shoulder. He looked around the school, nodding to himself in response to some inner dialogue. The girl remained motionless under the man's touch, watching Adam, and it seemed her dark gaze saw right through to the violence just under his surface.

Adam struggled to control it, knowing she had every right to caution. “Is this your father?”

She gave a slow nod. Adam focused on the way the silken ends of her hair brushed against the corner of her mouth. His beast, redirected, wondered if her hair felt as soft as it looked. He clamped down on his reactions, wondering why meeting one girl could throw his control off so badly. He didn't have time for it. She needed his protection from the bastard who had put the bruised look in her eyes, the reason she’d come here in the first place.

AUTHORESS: Thanks so much for that! Do you have any other fun "tidbits" to share?

PJ: Heart's Sentinel won the Novel category of Decadent's Submission Contest. As a result, the cover features Charles Paz. He's a free agent model and photographer working with Decadent Publishing on several covers for their authors for this kick off of the company in August. In fact, he's also on the cover of my second story, a novella titled Red's Wolf, to be released at the end of August. ;)

Additionally, as part of the contest, Heart's Sentinel will be spotlighted in September in Decadent's monthly "Read for a Cure" program. (Part of the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life) For the month of September (my birthday!), Decadent will contribute 100% of its publisher earnings on Heart's Sentinel to the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life.

AUTHORESS: So when you're not winning contests and being spotlighted, how do you spend your time? When the computer is shut down and life is quiet, where might we find you?

PJ: *blush* Outside of the day job and writing, I try to keep in shape by working out. I take Mixed Martial Arts classes that include Muay Thai, Jun fan/Jeet kune do and Kali Silat. To keep light on my feet, I attend dance classes in Philly. Moving around and getting active helps me keep the blood flowing and releases stress.

But I do take quiet moments too. You might find me curled up in my comfy arm chair reading a novel with dogs parked around me on the floor and super stealthy ninja kitty balancing on the arm rest. Or you might find me out in my backyard, napping in the grass with the dogs enjoying a little shade and a nice breeze. Either way, my notebook is never far from hand in case I get an epiphany and want to jot down a few notes before the plot bunnies over run my mind. ;)

AUTHORESS: So we don't want to meet you in a dark alley!

Will you share some words of wisdom for aspiring authors? What has your journey toward publication taught you that you can pass along?

PJ: Everything is a learning experience and the craft of writing is a continual work in progress.

Keep track of the constructive feedback you receive so you can identify repeated issues. It will be invaluable as you revise your manuscript and polish it.

Never give up, always move forward. Learn and become better for it. ;)

AUTHORESS: Words to live by! Thank you so much this fun interview. :)

PJ: Thank you so much for interviewing me! And also for your patience! It's been great to answer your very interesting questions and I'd love to answer more questions any of your blog readers might have in comments.

Heart's Sentinel will be released by Decadent Publishing on August 6th.

Also, look for the second title in the Terra's Guardians series, Red's Wolf, on August 30th.

READERS!! Leave a comment under this post to be entered in a drawing for a FREE COPY of Heart's Sentinel. Winner to be announced Thursday.


  1. Great post! I enjoyed reading the snippet. :) Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oooh, I love that it's about shifters and I feel the sexual tension already! Can't wait to read it.

  3. Great interview and I loved the excerpt! Looking forward to the release!

  4. Great interview! Very inspirational. :)

  5. Thank you for sharing your writing journey and congratulations on your well deserved success!

    I was intrigued by your organizational system. I've been playing around with some different things, and might see if some of your strategies work for me. I find organizing (especially all the random ideas and snippets that arise when doing something else) are the hardest to keep track of.

    Take care!

  6. Great interview, P.J. and Authoress. These author interviews are some of my favorite posts.

  7. Wonderful Q&A session. Thanks to both of you.

    Hope you don't mind me borrowing parts of your check list P.J. (I'm a little OCD about lists too). The book sounds terrific!

  8. Great interview. Congrats again, PJ! Thanks for the teaser, can't wait for the release on the 6th!

  9. Congratulations on your success, PJ, and thanks for sharing your journey with us. It's always interesting to hear about others' experiences and processes.

    I do feel like a bit of a ding dong, though, after reading about you using your blackberry to jot down writing ideas. I have just been using whatever little notebook or acrap of paper was handy. Hello, I have an iphone. With everything else I use my phone for you'd think I would figured this use out months ago when I got it. :P

  10. Thank you, everyone, for the generous comments - I hope you all enjoy my books. :)

    @Shannon feel free to give some of my organizational approaches a go. I'd love to hear about how they worked out for you.

    @Lisa you're quite welcome to use any parts of my check lists :)

    @TKAstle LOL. The iPhone is such a nifty gadget, sometimes it takes a little extra nudge to see past all those nifty apps to the additional uses it can have. The apps are Really distracting, in a fun way. ;)

  11. Wow, girl! I didn't know you got your new cover! We'd better get cracking on those edits! LOL And your organizational skills rock, I'm impressed!

  12. Congrats on everything PJ! I too have done NaNoWriMo 2 years running and it helped me so much with my writing.

  13. Adam knew every jaguar in River Gap Pride, and the woman who walked through the door wasn't one of them This is such a great opening line. This was a fun interview. I like PJ's idea of hybrid plotter pantser and getting the story back on track.

    This comes out in two days. I can't wait to read it. MMA is awesome...

  14. PJ you really know how to kick off a first chapter. I so want a copy of your book right now. Thanks for sharing a tease of it with us.

  15. I'm a plotter pantser, too! Great excerpt and great interview. I'm so with you on writing whenever you can. Our dreams are worth it.

  16. Sounds a little like Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson series - which I love. I've made a note to look for this book.

  17. Just wanted to drop by and thank all of you again! It's been so great to read all of the comments - and I hope you enjoy Heart's Sentinel! ;)

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