Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Sandra McDonald

Posted by Randolph Carter on July 13, 2009

stars blue yonderAuthor website:

http://homepage.mac.com/samcdonald/

Online journal:

http://sandramcdonald.livejournal.com/

Could you take a minute and explain what The Stars Blue Yonder is about?

Sure! It’s the third book in a series, though it’s meant to be read as a stand alone. My heroine is Jodenny Scott, a military officer who has long been stranded on a remote planet while intergalactic war rages back home. One day her murdered husband Terry Myell shows up, very much alive. He’s a soldier lost in time, ricocheting through the century on a futile quest to change the course of history. Their reunion and adventures take them around the universe, through epic battles, and back to the rough and tumble streets of colonial Australia. And for most of the book Jodenny is pregnant. With a child who’s already grown up. That’s the fun of time travel :-)

What was the process like in getting your first book published?

I wrote three full manuscripts before starting what was eventually my first published novel, The Outback Stars. The first few chapters of that were workshopped in 2001, the full novel went out in 2003, a revised version went out and sold in 2005, and the book first appeared in hardcover in 2007. The process was both exhilarating and frustrating, as many writers have discovered, but well worth the effort.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

As a child I was a big fan of my hometown library, one of those beautiful Andrew Carnegie buildings of red bricks, fine wood, and a beautiful reading room. It’s still standing in Revere, Massachusetts. In middle school my hands grabbed everything, but as I grew older my tastes turned mostly to science fiction, fantasy and horror. By college I was reguarly reading Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, Joel Rosenberg, Nancy Kress, Lois McMaster Bujold, and lots of tie-in novels for Star Trek, Star Wars, Space 1999, Dr. Who, and everything in between. Give me an adventure and great characters and some spaceships or magic, and I’d devour it.

Are you still a reader? What kind of things do you enjoy reading? Any favorite authors you’d care to share with us?

I’ve been reading a lot of great Young Adult fiction: Megan Whalen Turner, Sherri L. Smith, Suzanne Collins. In science fiction and fantasy, I’m enjoying Rachel Caine, Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre. Suzanne Brockman, Nora Roberts, Paul Levine and Diana Gabaldon are big favorites from romance and mystery. Plus I regularly pick up non-fiction – recently about submarines, Victorian criminals, writing poetry, sleepaway camps, accupressure, and birdwatching – and lots of magazines. There’s always something in my to-read pile, and am glad for it.stars down under

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

My family’s very first home video game was Pong. I remember watching the ball go back and forth in amazement! Later we moved up to a Nintendo, and my brothers, father and I got very good at Mario and Super Mario Brothers. While I was stationed in the Navy in Newfoundland, a good friend and I played endless hours of Wolfenstein 3D – maybe too many endless hours :-) These days it’s mostly Super Mario Galaxy, but if I could fit Myst on my iPod Touch, I’d load that in an instant – it’s one of my all-time faves.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer? Please explain.

I think many narrative experiences – gaming, acting or writing theater, attending film school – can be enormously beneficial to writers. The more stories we analyze and participate in, the more we have in our repertoire. Solving the puzzles in Myst may not have made me a better writer, but it certainly made me think about mood, atmosphere and worldbuilding. Killing Nazi soldiers in Wolfenstein didn’t necessarily teach me plotting, but it sure taught me persistence! Anything can be a learning experience when you’re a writer.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Oh, sure there is. The excellent writer Maureen McHugh once posted a great graphic about the writing process that starts with “This is greatest idea I’ve EVER had” and gradually descends into “Dark night of the soul.” A novel is a four or five hundred (or longer) page argument that people made of ink and white space actually exist, matter, and are worthy of your time. Making that happen is an amazing but tiresome process. And revising – oh, let’s not talk about revising.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

outback starsAs Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “To fill the hour – that is happiness.” Falling into the rapture of writing – really being in the groove – makes me happy. And to hear that other people enjoyed or were moved by something I wrote doubles that happiness.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

Read Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, and love the work that also might drive you crazy.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

Thank you for letting me share my work, and I hope readers enjoy The Stars Blue Yonder!

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