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Maria V Snyder
US author Maria Snyder returns to her bestselling Chronicles of Ixia series with SHADOW STUDY, following soulfinder Yelena and security chief Valek as they battle enemies and the politics that govern their lives.
In Shadow Study, Yelena is attacked and mysteriously loses her magical abilities. She is forced to track down her enemies without those abilities whilst Valek, the chief of security in Ixian and the man she loves, is caught up with Ixian power struggles.
With their engaging characters, political intrigue and dramtic storylines, the Chronicles of Ixia books are well worth reading. The series began with Poison Study and while you don't have to have read the earlier books to enjoy Shadow Study, it would help to explain some of the background.
We were fortunate to meet with Maria V Snyder during her recent UK tour and were able to put some of our questions to her:
Q: You worked as a meteorologist before becoming an author, but had you always wanted to write?
A: I was a big reader as a child, I spent a lot of time in the library and I was very creative, I acted and painted and drew, but I wasn't a strong writer and while I was at university, I avoided writing as much as I could in my studies.
It wasn't until I was working as an environmental meteorologist - looking at things like air pollution and checking permits for smoke stacks - that I decided I'd try to write some short stories. I thought they' be easier than a novel but they weren't.
Then I got the idea of Poison Study. The book was rejected by 40 agents and I eventually approached publishers directly and got 17 rejections. Luna was a new imprint from Harlequin and they accepted the book, which was amazing. I've since written three more 'Study' books - Magic Study, Fire Study and now Shadow Study, which begins a new Ixia story.
Q: You focus on fantasy writing, is that because those are the books you enjoyed reading when you were younger?
A: Actually I read nothing but mysteries through my high school years but when my sister's boyfriend found out I liked reading, he started giving me fantasy books to read, authors like Ursula Le Guin. He was one of those kids who was into sci-fi and Dungeons and Dragons, but he started me reading fantasy and I loved it. I still read mystery but not as much as fantasy.
Right now I'm reading a psychological thriller by Tana French, but I still read fantasy as well as mainstream books - and romantic suspense novels when I'm on holiday!
Q: Have the Ixian Chronicles changed significantly since you conceived the original idea?
A: The first book, Poison Study, began with the image of a king who had a food taster on his staff. I had this image in my head where she's tasting his food and it's probably poisoned and he is in love with her but can't stop her from tasting the food.
I never wrote that book because a lot of fantasies have monarchs so I changed it to a military dictator who was sure that someone would try to kill him, so he hired food tasters. But I didn't really know much more than that when I began. I had to write Yelena, the food taster, into existence - I didn't know why she was there or why she was doing this job.
If I know the story in advance, it's not as fun for me to write. I need to do a bit more planning now than I did in the past because if publishers are going to buy a book, they want to know more about it, although I still make changes when I start to actually write it. But I am more careful about what goes into the stories in case it messes up something I know I'll need to cover further down the road.
Q: How hard was it to create the fantasy worlds of Ixia and Sitia?
A: The hardest part in creating the world was the political stuff, I'm just not into politics and intrigue, so having a military dictatorship was easier. In Ixia there is a general in charge and they wear a uniform while in the world of Sitia there is a more democratic set-up with clans, which was much harder to create.
Q: What made you decide to return to the Ixian Chronicles to write Shadow Study?
A: I thought I was done with the Study books. I ended book three, Magic Study, and I thought that was it. But my readers wanted more about Valek, Yelena and Janco.
Then I finally got an idea for another story and I knew it was time to write it. I found that as I wrote that story, Shadow Study, I could also use it as a kind of prequel by flashing back to Valek's past so that we find out more about how he became to be such a skilled assassin.
Q: Yelena is a tough young heroine, how important is it for young people to read about characters like her?
A: I think it's very important for young readers to have these characters, especially girls. I get a lot of emails from girls who have signed up for kick boxing or self defence classes having read these books because they want to be independent and not to be scared.
One young woman sent me a picture of her black belt; she'd also taken up karate after reading these books. I had no idea that the books would have that kind of influence on people, it's wonderful though and I love hearing these stories.
Q: Did you need to study martial arts in order to write the fights you describe?
A: I am a brown belt in Isshin-Ryu karate. I took up karate initially to learn more about self defence as there'd been a couple of incidents while I was growing up in Philadelphia - plus I had an older cousin who would beat up on me!
To research the books I also needed to learn about fighting with weapons and I took a fencing class and learned about a few other weapons, including how to swing a broad sword. Now when I'm writing an action scene I'll stand up and grab my bo staff to check if I can actually do what I'm writing about.
Q: You also have a lot of horse riding in the book - was that something else you needed to learn about?
A: Yes, the worlds of Ixia and Sitia are kind of medieval but also a bit more modern and the people rely on horses so I felt I needed to learn to ride to understand how my characters would get around.
I learned to ride on a horse called Kiki, like Yelena's horse, and I really loved her but I don't ride regularly because I just don't trust horses. They are so skittish and you never know what they are going to do and that makes me nervous, which makes the horse nervous....
Q: What next for Yelena and Valek?
A: We find out more about Valek in Shadow Study than we have in the earlier books. In the first three books, the story is focused on Yelena but in these books, we turn to Valek. He was the assassin and then the right hand man of the Commander, so I wanted to explore his character more in Shadow Study and in the next book, Night Study, I put him through the ringer.
In Night Study, Valek's relationship with the Commander takes a turn for the worse, he is questionning his role with a new young assassin on the scene, and the Commander isn't the same. As for Yelena, she's dealing with a contingent in Sitia who think that magicians should be part of the army because they think Ixia is planning to invade. So it gets tough for them both.
Night Study will be followed by Dawn Study, and then that's pretty much it for Valek and Yelena.
Q: Where do you prefer to do your writing?
A: I have a really nice office at home with built in book cases and a desk made from cherry wood that my husband carved for me as he does woodwork as a hobby. I tend to write from 10pm to 4am, on Sunday to Thursday nights and I might take Friday and Saturday off.
I'm not naturally a night owl but I once had to finish a book in August and I had my children home. I found that they wouldn't bother me if I was sleeping but they would if I was working, so I started sleeping in the daytime to get my writing done at night time.
Q: If you could have any one of the magical abilities of your Ixian world, which would it be?
A: I'd want to be a healer; as a mother and from seeing friends dealing with chronic issues, I'd love to wave a magic wand to heal them.
Q: What's your favourite escape from writing?
A: I love to travel and there are still so many places I'd like to visit - Japan, Russia, South American countries like Brazil and Chile, and more of Europe. I'm always up for a trip and my husband travels so we've been to lots of places like China and New Zealand, which was just gorgeous!