Another of my Salt Lake Comic Con interviews, I had a conversation with Renee Collins whose new book, Until We Meet Again, comes out tomorrow. She had some facinating insights into writing history and mythology and her own process of writing and researching. Enjoy!
Gama Ray Martinez: I am here with writer Renee Collins who writes a couple of series. Renee, will you just start off by telling us a little about yourself?
Renee Collins: Yeah, I’m a writer of young adult fiction. My first novel, Relic, came out in 2013. It’s a young adult fantasy novel set in a magical version of the old west. I have a novel coming out in November 3rd called Until We Meet Again. It’s a time travelish love story
GM: You mentioned Relic which reviewed which is an alternate history taking place in the old west where, basically the remains of magical creatures give people power. How did that come about?
RC: That was one of the first ideas I had actually. It was not the very first novel I wanted to write. Relic is my fifth completed novel that I’ve written, but in the very first novel, I had this idea. I pictured these dwarves mining in a mountain. In my mind, it seemed more appropriate that they were mining for dragon bones rather than gold. That kind of started the idea, and that book ended up not working out, but when I had the idea to do a magical western, I was like, “Oh, what’s the magic system going to be?” It just popped into my head to do that very first book.
GM: Nice. How many books will that go?
RC: There’s going to be a sequel. My publisher wants it at some point. My agent suggested we go in a different direction for a while. That’s why we have Until We Meet Again, but I fully intend, I have the sequel all mapped out. The title and everything. It’s going to come out at some point.
GM: We mentioned it’s an alternate history so I imagine you did quite a bit of historical research for it. Can you tell us how you went about that?
RC: Sure. My dad’s a historian, so on family vacations, instead of going to amusement parks, we went to old historic forts and things like that. I have always been immersed in history. I was a history major. I definitely read a lot. The thing I wanted to be most careful with was the portrayal of the Apache Indians, even though in my book, it’s an alternate universe so everything is a little different. No one culture has to be perfectly historically accurate because it is a different history, but I did want to be sensitive to other cultures, especially with the Apaches and the Spanish Creole. I wanted to have a real sensitive and accurate portrayal of those so I read a lot of books basically.
GM: You used the remains of dragons, vampires, sirens, and a couple of other creatures. So I would guess you also did research into a bunch of mythologies. Is that right?
RC: Oh yes. I definitely had to. It was pretty fun actually, to think of different types of relics, and you research the creature to see what kind of magic would their fossils bring about. That was fun. Sometimes it was challenging, but I definitely researched a lot of fantasy creatures and creatures from legend and myth like what they’re known for, what’s their magical power. I had to think about how that would translate over.
GM: Was there any creature you discovered in your research that you didn’t know about before that ended up in Relic or that you plan to put in the sequel?
RC: That is a good one. Let me think. It’s been a while. There was definitely a lot of creatures that I learned more about that I’d heard of. Banshees, for example, I knew that word. I knew they were kind of related to Ireland, but I didn’t know what they even were so researching them was very interesting. There are actually a few creatures that I’m saving for the sequel, but I can’t spoil that.
GM: Fair enough. You have your book, Until We Meet Again, coming out soon. Can you give us a little bit more details about that one?
RC: Sure. That one’s a love story. I have a soft spot for impossible love stories. I was trying to think what would make a love impossible. Obviously, one thing you need for a successful romance is proximity so I envisions these people in a different time. Plus, I think I’ve always had a crush on Jay Gatsby and that F. Scott Fitzgerald. In my pure wish fulfillment mind, I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could meet someone from that time?” The main character is a modern girl, and she’s living in a sea side mansion in upper crust Massachusetts beach town. She meets a mysterious guy on the beach and it turns out he’s living in the same house in the 1920s, and they can only see each other and interact on that beach. If they try move beyond, they just go back to their own time. Then, they discover some things, and it becomes a race against the clock.
GM: That sounds interesting. As someone who broke in just a few years ago, you might have a different perspective on this, so can you tell us how you went about selling Relic?
RC: It was definitely a long process for me. Like I said earlier, Relic was my fifth complete novel. It wasn’t the first book I ever wrote, so I had plenty of rejections to my name. I queries agents. I always knew I wanted traditional publishing just because I don’t have the guts for self-publishing. I want a team there to help me out. I tried to get an agent and probably two different books tried to get an agent with mixed success. I never had an offer. Finally, I got an offer from an agent on one book, but that didn’t work out. Then, I was writing Relic and I got another agent so there’s a lot of ups and downs, a lot of rejections but ultimately it was a goal I felt was worth fighting for and so even though I wanted to give up many times, I was like, “All right, let’s just keep going. Let’s keep trying. One more time.” I’m an eternal optimist, I guess.
GM: We’re glad you didn’t give up because I really enjoyed Relic. What has been the most surprising part about this whole process, breaking in and getting to that level?
RC: That’s a good question. I think it’s been surprising that the ups and downs don’t stop once you get published. I always envisioned this kind of, “Once you make it, everything is great and you’re so happy, but this whole process, being a writer, trying to get published, it kind of is what you make it. I know authors who are traditionally published, published with the big five, and they’re unsatisfied. If you’re looking for outside sources to give you success and happiness, it’ll be a harder road because no matter what, not everyone is going to like your book. Think of your favorite book, look on Amazon, and I guarantee you there are one star reviews for that book. It’ll be the same with your own book when you get published, and you just can’t let that get you down. It definitely did surprise me. I had to readjust in my mind.
GM: In doing research for this interview, I came across something. You do quite a bit of bike riding, is that right?
RC: Yes, mountain biking, road biking. I love it.
GM: Have you ever done a triathlon or any of the longer races? I’ve heard of a couple of hundred mile ones. Have you ever done those?
RC: No, my friends do. One day, I’m going to be crazy enough. I’ve done some 5ks, and I was training for a triathlon this summer in the town where I live, and they canceled it. It was really frustrating, but that’s my ultimate goal is to do a triathlon because I love swimming to. I’ve gone on longer rides. I’ve done 40 miles. That’s about a good as I can do. Like I said, one of these days. I have a lot of friends who are real go getters with biking stuff and so one day. Maybe. When I’m crazy enough.
GM: What do you when you’re not writing or riding?
RC: That’s a good question. I have three kids. They take up a lot of my time in a good way. I like to cook. I love to read, obviously. I’m always reading something. I’m very social so I love to get together with friends and go out to eat and play games. I’m a people person. I like to be around people. That sounds cheesy. Socialize. Party. Not party party but you know what I mean.
GM: Do you have a struggle in finding the balance between writing and the rest of your life?
RC: Definitely. It’s definitely hard. As a mother, I feel like there’s this natural impulse to want to give everything to them, but I’m still and individual and I think it’s a good thing for them to see that I have goals I’m working toward, but at the end of the day, you do kind of think what’s the most important thing. For me, writing almost always comes second, unless I’m up against a deadline and I’m like, “I love you but I have to finish this so here’s a movie.” For the most part, my family comes first and writing comes second, which maybe my publisher wouldn’t be happy to hear, but that’s the way it is.
GM: What are you working on right now?
RC: Right now, I’m working on my publisher sourcebooks for Until We Meet Again. They want another novel from me and so I’m working on a proposal. I’ve actually finished and sent to my agent a proposal for another novel. If they like that, I’ll start writing that. If not, I need to start working on a new proposal, which is a very daunting thought, but I’m going to be positive and assume they’ll want the one I sent them. We’ll see. Fingers crossed.
GM: That is all I had for you, Renee, so I just want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview.
RC: Thank you very much. It was fun.