Monday, July 18, 2011

Interview with Carina Press author Maria Zannini

I have a summer treat that's out of this world! Maria Zannini is here to share her experience in writing sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, and paranormal romance. When it comes to setting, she really knows how to create unique 'other worlds'. Maria has gone from living in a city of high rise buildings, to living next door to a lion refuge. Needless to say, she knows how to put a twist in life...and in her stories ;).

On with the interview!

1. In contemporary romance it's said that fiction has to be more realistic than reality in order for readers to buy into it. I think that paranormal/sci fi/futuristic romance has its own 'realism' challenges in that everything in the story has to be 'real', genuine, consistent, and true to the world created. How do you approach your world building, and how do you keep the details of your different worlds straight?

Hoo-boy! You’re starting out with a couple of heavyweight questions.

World building: It doesn’t matter if the world in your story is a daycare facility or a space station. Once the author understands the workings of his universe inside and out, his job is to weave that knowledge within the story (without the dreaded info dumps). Making it feel genuine is a tightrope, utilizing a lot of skills at once, but the most important tool of all is to create a sense of familiarity.

I’ll use an example from my latest book, The Devil To Pay. This was especially tricky because it’s a novella. I had to create a preternatural world and invest the reader FAST. In a little more than a thousand words, I set up the unique relationship between a demon and the man she works for, the otherworldliness of their lifestyle, and magic. The scene takes place in the man’s study and he’s dictating a letter—a mundane task until you notice the details.

It’s the little things that infer a larger world. With dictation done, the demon tosses her steno pad into the air and it returns as an envelope. The envelope is sealed in wax, then promptly mailed by tossing it up again.

Her 21st century boss might seem perfectly normal except for the 19th century garb. The demon too appears human at first glance until you read about subtly pointed ears and her extraordinary preoccupation with sex. Even the butler, who makes a half-second appearance, suggests something more than meets the eye by virtue of how he reacts (and doesn’t react) to the events and people in the scene.

To imply an extraordinary world, focus on experiences relatable to the reader, and turn them into bridges. Not only will it create a foundation, but it makes it instantly familiar and accessible to the reader.

Keeping track of details: I create a stylesheet for every book series which is nothing more than a punch list of facts and figures. This keeps me straight on dates, characters, terms, and physical details. Don’t write your next book without one! They’re lifesavers.

2. I must say that the book covers for True Believers, Touch of Fire, Apocalypse Rising and The Devil to Pay are fantastic. They really capture the characters and tone of your stories. Many authors worry about how their covers will turn out. Were you able to use your experience as an advertising artist and an art director to influence your covers? Any tips on filling out art fact sheets so that covers end up picture perfect?

Nowadays, I just give the art department two or three important aspects in the story. Having been an art director for an advertising company, I have no doubt the publisher’s art department is on a rigid schedule. While they might appreciate everything you provided, they’ll probably only use a fraction of it in the actual design.

The only cover where I had any real input was my last one for The Devil To Pay, and that’s because I designed it myself.

3. Apocalypse Rising is a continuation of Touch of Fire. For those of you who haven't read Touch of Fire yet, I don't want to give spoilers, but suffice it to say that the twist at the end had me saying OMG out loud. It was brilliant and had me wanting more. You weave a mix of mythology, mysticism, and real world into these books in a way that creates a truly unique experience. I love it. In real life, do you believe there's some truth to things like astrology, life beyond earth, psychic abilities, ghosts, mysticism etc...and does that impact your writing?

What a great question! I can’t say I believe in astrology, but I do think there’s more to life than the tangible. I’ve seen more than my share of ghosts, so any and all ghost stories I tell are based on a smidgen of experience. I delight in mysticism and the esoteric. If it’s spooky and mysterious, I want to figure out all the whys and wherefores.

While I love the supernatural, there’s enough scientist in me to want to find the logical reasons behind the metaphysical.

4. You're published in both ebook and print format (through predominantly ebook publishers). Do you have a preference between ebooks and print? If you could time travel into the future, say thirty years from now, what do you think you'd find in terms of reading and the status of print books?

I’m sure there will always be print books, but thirty years from now, I predict the print books we’ll find in most homes will be books that have a personal connection to the owner, such as art books and tomes we want to show off.

Digital will be the standard and preferred way of reading because we are already a society of short-term consumers. Gone are the days of long exposition and pages of description. The faster our lifestyle, the less time we have to read. If society continues this trend, I suspect stories will grow more bite-sized. And we won’t be content with one book in our pocket. We’ll want hundreds. We’ve been weaned on vast selections. We’ll never go back to having less choice.

The e-reader has never made it easier for the reading connoisseur. We hear about a hot novel, and BOOM, it’s in our reader at the push of a button. Paper, for all its intimate comfort and traditionalism can’t compete with that.

5. Now, let's go back in time. We'd love to hear about your first Call story. Inspire us!

Ha! This is the story of a writer who got shoved into publishing face-first. A few years back, Samhain Publishing had a First Line contest. Over 300 people submitted the first line to their novels. Each week for five weeks, you got to add another sentence, but if the judges didn’t like it, you were dropped. Whoever lasted all five weeks would be allowed to sub her novel to a specific editor.

My friend, Maya Reynolds, talked me into entering. Only I didn’t have a novel. “Five lines”, she told me. “You just gotta write five lines.” So I did. And I won. Believe me, nobody was more surprised than me. Frantic to offer something, I sent the editor three chapters (all I had), thinking she’d decline to see the rest. Instead she asked for more. So off I went into my writing cave and finished the novel in four weeks with an additional week to polish it with the help of my very understanding critique partners. I sent it in and held my breath.

I didn’t have to wait long. Within a few days, I got an email from the editor saying Samhain would like to offer me a contract for Touch Of Fire. I remember just staring at the email, certain they’d made a mistake. Of all the offers I’ve had in my life, that had been the most unexpected.

6. In your opinion, what is more important to an author's success...the publisher they're working with, the editor, or both?

I suppose the smart money would say both because a good publisher can do a lot to get an author noticed, but for me, the editor is paramount. I would rather work with an excellent editor at a small press than a mediocre editor at a big house. A great editor can make a book sparkle.

7. Apart from not quitting, what's the one thing you did that you feel played a critical role in getting you published?

Keeping a finger on the pulse of writing communities. I’ve never been particularly vocal in forums, but I am a very good listener. After a while you start to pick up little tremors when the industry is starting to shift just by reading about other people’s experiences.

8. You have an amazing blog where you get to share a lot of wonderful pictures and updates on your Texas homestead heaven (and haven). You're surrounded by some pretty interesting critters. What's the strangest pet you've ever had (or plan to have)?

I’ve never had a yen for strange pets, but I’ve raised a wide assortment of critters. To date, we’ve had emu, rheas, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, earthworms, fish, dogs and cats. We plan to get goats this year. And I’m surrounded by lots of wildlife. One of our neighbors even runs a lion sanctuary. I live in a very interesting place.

9. I love asking this because it gives us a sneak peak at the real you :). What's your quirkiest writing habit and favorite deadline crunch-time snack?

Oh, great. Now, you’re delving into the inner-Maria. I don’t think I have any quirky habits, but I do use a balance ball as a chair due to a back injury. That’s kind of quirky, right? LOL. As for snacks, I love lemon and orange jellybeans. Jellybeans not in favor tend to magically disappear. I blame the dogs—but it could be the husband. One never knows in my house.

10. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek, definitely. Captain Kirk was my babysitter.

Rula, thank you so much for interviewing me. You asked some terrific questions.

It was great having you here, Maria. Best wishes always.

Maria's latest book, The Devil To Pay, is is the first book of the series Second Chances.


The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and bad tequila. Shannon McKee finds herself at the end of her rope, and she offers her soul to whoever can save her first.

Shannon’s plea is answered immediately by two men who couldn’t be more different from one another. Yet they share a bond and an affection for the stubborn Miss McKee that even they don’t understand.

When Heaven and Hell demand their payment, Shannon has no choice but to submit. No matter who gets her soul, she’s not getting out of this alive.




Maria Zannini used to save the world from bad advertising, but now she spends her time wrangling chickens, and fighting for a piece of the bed against dogs of epic proportions. Occasionally, she writes novels.




  1. Thank you so much for inviting me, Rula. You asked the best questions!

  2. Great interview ladies! I really enjoyed reading it.

  3. Awesome interview - great questions and answers!

  4. @Angelina

    Didn't Rula ask the best questions? I was very impressed.

  5. Maria and Rula, together you've turned out a wonderful interview. Great probing questions and informative answers, the refernece to the stylesheet being very helpful.

  6. Aw, thanks Maria. I had a lot of fun interviewing you. I loved reading through your answers!

    Hi everyone! I'm so glad you're enjoying the interview. Maria is very cool. Isn't she? I'm wondering how often she hears the lions roar, LOL.

  7. Angela: Someday soon I'll do a whole post on creating stylesheets.

    Rula: I generally hear the lions at dusk and sometimes in the early morning. I imagine that must be meal times.

  8. Hi, Maria! So nice to read more about you!

    I totally agree with you about the ebook/print future. And I loved your first call story!

  9. This is one of the best author interviews I've read. Thank you very much, Rula, for inviting Maria to be your guest. And, Maria, your advice "just give the art department two or three important aspects in the story" is fantastic.

    Rula, I'm delighted to be a new follower!


  10. Nice to know someone can break the "consensus" and still come out ahead. Guess talent pops up when you least expect it. Way to go, Maria.

  11. Hi Jennifer :) Thanks for stopping in.

    Michelle, thanks for the kind words and for following! I'll be sure to pop over to your blog soon :)

  12. Rula thanks for interviewing one of my favorite authors, she has a style and flair that keeps me enjoying not only her blog but every book she releases.

    Maria I have finally found a bone of contention between us, how could you pick Captain Kirk over Hans Solo? Although you would be correct in saying that Kirk was a babysitter because I watched him as a youngster too and only saw Harrison Ford for the first time when I was grown and out of High School.

  13. Great interview! I never knew the story about the five lines contest. Guess you had to scramble to come up with a novel in a hurry! :) That's so funny about your style sheets - I do the same thing, but call mine Spec Sheets (like an architect, but of words)

  14. @Michelle: So glad you could join us.

    @Kay: Desperation makes us all very talented. LOL.

    @Jackie: What's this? We finally found something to divide us? LOL. My geeky side prefers the science-y stuff. But the woman in the middle still goes gaga over Solo any day of the week.

    @Cate: I don't remember where I got the word stylesheets from. I think it was from Deanna Hoak, an SF editor of renown.

  15. What a wonderful interview. I smiled throughout, especially over the five lines. Wow! That's a great story.

    And the jelly beans. I love them, too. But I go for the white and purples. :)

  16. I didn't realize that was the process for deciding the cover. Thanks, Maria, for the great interview.

  17. Sarita: At least there'll be no fighting between us over jellybeans. :grin:

    Stina: Publishers send you a an 'art sheet' whereby you list elements of your book and attach photos of what you think your h/h look like.

    In the end, they pare it down to essentials and try to come up with something that will sell.

  18. What a good interview! Maria, I agree with your comment about the readers of the future never going back to having less choice on any given instant once we become used to being able to get whatever we want at the touch of a finger

  19. Thanks to all for stopping by and for helping me give Maria a warm welcome. I've enjoyed all the comments!

  20. Great interview and questions. Maria, I learned several new things about you.

  21. @JK: With all you have going on this week I can't believe you had time to stop by. Thank you. --obviously, I'm going to have to talk to your clone-maker.

    @Shelley: I'm a woman of many layers. LOL. Which accounts for the extra weight I'm packing. ;-)

    @Rula: Thank you so much for inviting me. I always dread interviews, but yours was a true pleasure.

  22. Those were some of the best questions! I don't think I'd heard your "call" story before Maria and what a great one, too.

    When I'm at my desk I also use an exercise ball so I guess I'm quirky, maybe that's why we get along ;)

  23. Raelyn: I don't think I've told my call story in a long time. As call stories go, it was a good one. :)

  24. Great interview as always Rula! Maria, wonderful to learn more about you!

  25. It's nice to meet you too, Kaily. Love that name!

  26. Awesome interview, I loved reading about Maria, Rula thanks for bringing her here!

    Devil to Pay sounds intriguing.

    All the best!

  27. This has been a very interesting look at worldbuilding. Wishing Maria tons of success with the book.

  28. Thanks for stopping by, Shelley, Raelyn, Kaily, Nas, and J.L.!

    Thanks again, Maria :)