Today, I had the privilege of interviewing Vevina-Anne A. Swanson, a current undergrad at the California State Polytechnic University of Pomona and the creative mind behind her debut novel, I Am Malory. Ms. Swanson and I met in a multicultural literature class during the last semester of my college undergrad years and share a mutual interest in writing. Nothing fills me with more pride than knowing that a fellow enthusiast for the written word has gotten herself established as a published author. I conducted this interview with Ms. Swanson in hopes that she would share a bit of the premise and purpose of her novel as well as give sound advice on writing and publishing to would-be writers and authors.

Without giving major spoilers away to I Am Malory, is there anything that you can tell us about the story? Something about the main character or the plot?

Sure! Well to start, it’s a psychological thriller novel that revolves around a pianist. As the title states, her name is Malory. Since a young age, Malory always had trouble with [her] memory due to past trauma. She doesn’t know it yet, but a reason for her memory loss is hugely contributed to Dissociative Identity Disorder, also known as DID. This story revolves around Malory and her alters trying to make a sense of themselves and how they came to be. 

Just after your book’s frontispiece, you include a short passage that assures people with mental illness that everything will be okay and asks those who know loved ones with mental illness to be patient with them. What inspired you to write your first book on such a subject and how does I Am Malory aim to address mental illness?

I myself had to and still deal with my own mental struggles. Since I can remember, I grew up with many people in my life always saying that depression or any other illness could just be “shrugged off” and that I could simply “snap out of it.” Not only that, I saw a lot of media portray mental illness in such a bad way. These struggles people have to deal with don’t give them superpowers and do not make them serial killers. I won’t name any films but I’ve continued to see this over and over again. It’s really quite sad and disturbing. My hopes with this book is to give a sense of comfort and strength rather than weakness and feelings of loss to those that have suffered. I don’t want to be another creator who makes mental illness seem like a dangerous thing to those around the sufferer.

Do you plan to write any more books on the topic of mental illness or another type of social topic in the future? If so, why?

Oh yes, I definitely would like to. I have a current book I’m working on but it’s themed more around horror and supernatural aspects. Still though, I’ll plant some psychological problems in there for my characters. Although for my third book SoulTape, I’d like to focus on overcoming grief of a loved one. That novel would definitely be more towards self-healing so we shall see how that goes!

Can you give us an idea of what your upcoming books will be about?

Sure! My second book Inked is about a poet named Adam Moore. He makes a living off his poems to support himself along with his sister. But here’s the catch. The words of his poems come from a person’s last dying breaths. That is, ironically, what gives his poems so much life. As for my third book SoulTape, it will center around a widow in her early forties. She (I have yet to give her a name) has been grieving over her deceased wife for a little over ten years. She still can feel her presence and most often her voice. How is this possible though? Whether she is delusional or not, she listens and speaks to her deceased partner though a small yellow tape recorder.

We all have our reasons for working towards the career path we dream of. I can remember when it was I decided I wanted to become a writer. When and why did you decide to become a writer?

I’ve always loved writing! Quite embarrassing, but it started out with me writing small fan fictions or tales of angels and demons. I never stopped writing but I did take things slower since I was at first going for a psychology major. Thankfully due to a few circumstances, I ended up changing my major to something that didn’t need a master’s degree. Another thing that hugely contributed to me writing more is realizing that I couldn’t make the stories floating in my head into drawings. I don’t do comics, only singular pieces of art. Having all these plots flowing through my head and nothing to do with them, that’s when I decided to take to another medium and begin writing.

Which authors have influenced your writing style/genre choice/etc. the most?

Oh boy. I love so many others that it’s hard to pick. Hands down though, Stephen King left a dark yet shining impact on my writing. The way he pops out books like a baby boomer astounded me and I was horrified when reading novels like Misery or Pet Sematary. There are other writers like Nabokov or Anthony Doerr that really had a way with words. Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See was definitely one of the more beautifully crafted books I’ve ever read.

In detail, what’s your writing process like?

So my process mostly takes place in my car! While driving to work or anywhere really, I start playing music that reflects a certain mood for the novel I’m working on. I’m confident that 70 percent of my ideas came while on the road. Usually after I have enough scenes in my head, I start piecing them together. For I Am Malory I wrote a lot of the plot down which helped. At the same time though, it limited myself from creating new scenes. Now for my second book, I bounce around from being a plotter and pantser so I won’t feel stuck.

Do you see yourself as a plotter or pantser writer? Do you feel one method is more effective than the other? (Editor’s Note: “plotters” are writers who outline their story before they begin writing it; “pantsers” write their stories without outlining beforehand and prefer to “fly by the seat of their pants,” thus the term).

In the past, I was definitely a plotter. Now though, I bounce back and forth between the two. I still want to get the main points down in my novel. After that, I just start writing and see where it takes me. After I finish the entire first draft, that’s when I’ll get into plotting and making sure nothing has holes or is left out.

In detail, how do you go about publishing and marketing your book?

This was an absolute mind-boggling task for me. There aren’t a lot of big shot writers out there that go on exposing their secrets and ways of getting published. However, I kept digging and researching until I had enough information to take a few steps forward. YouTube and Google were my best friends during that time. Unfortunately, after sending my manuscript out to agents, no one was fully into my story though they did admit to be interested. After that, I decided to bite the bullet and take things into my own hands. In total, I expected to spend around 4,000 dollars. Thankfully, I only ended up spending less than 2,000. For my cover artist, editor, and formatter, I didn’t expect there to be a certain order to things. For the cover artist, she needed the editor to be done so she could figure out the sizing. At the same time, the editor needed to be done so the formatter could finish wrapping things up. Basically things became a crazy time crunch.

$2,000 is a lot of money to spend on getting a book ready for publishing. Are there any less-expensive alternatives writers with not much money in their pockets can use to get their books publish-ready?

Oh yes, absolutely! I only paid that much because I was picky. Oh, and from getting a generous amount of donations thanks to my lovely supporters. If someone wants to publish an Ebook, they don’t really need cover art, though I highly recommend it. Cover artists all have different prices, some more than others. It really is just doing your research and asking yourself if you’ll be satisfied with the outcome. As for editing, there are always sites like Grammarly or simply combing through your manuscript for any last errors. Got a friend? Well go ahead and ask them to be your proofreader too! There is always a way around everything. For me, I just wanted to have another set of eyes on my piece and a bit of breather time from the hell I just wrote.

You mentioned publishing agents expressed interest in your book, but wouldn’t publish it. Will you continue to try to get any future books traditionally published or will you stay the self-publishing course?

I would still love to someday be traditionally published. And yet, I would still have to market myself as if I was doing self-publishing. I’ll probably do what I did before: reach out to agents, prepare to self-publish in the cases they decline, etc. It is nice though, to be the master of everything in your book. I’m especially picky with cover art so it’s nice to be in charge.

As all writers understand, writing a book from start to finish is not an easy task (unless you’re Stephen King). How long did it take you to finish I Am Malory? What are some of the struggles you ran into while writing it and how did you get past them?

Honestly, I’m surprised it only took me two years. I wanted to make sure that I was as close as accurate as I could be with DID. The last thing I’d want to do was misinterpret it and end up hurting people rather than creating an empowering book.

What’s some advice you have for writers who are struggling with finishing or publishing their first book? What’s something you feel that all aspiring authors need to know before they begin typing their manuscript’s first draft?

Habit is something that should really be taken into consideration. Waiting for moments of inspiration will get your book nowhere. And if it did, the process would be stretched a couple more years than needed. If possible, I suggest to write every single day, even if it is only for five minutes. Doing it at the same time each day will also prepare your brain for what’s ahead. My boyfriend bought me noise canceling earphones, so that’s my go to when I need to get into the zone. Even during moments of writer’s block, at least you’ll still be writing. That’s why we are called writers after all!

When you finished the final draft of I Am Malory, you had the option of either traditionally publishing it or self-publishing it. What made you decide self-publishing was best for you? Do you still stand by that decision?

So I actually had this all planned out ahead of time. First, I wanted to try traditional publishing. Since it usually takes around three months for an agent to reply, I took that time researching cover artists and editors just in case I ended up self-publishing. Three months later and my emails being all rejected, I took things into my own hands. At least I had the time to research and gather the team I needed for publishing on my own.

It’s a sad reality that being a part-time or full-time writer/author is not a viable source of income on its own—not the way it was 60 years ago; even traditionally published authors can’t survive on their book sales alone anymore. Are you a part-time or full-time writer and (though I know it’s rude to ask) how do you find yourself managing financially? Do you see yourself still being a writer in the next five years?

That’s not a rude question at all! I already knew this type of path would be hard but still wanted to do it anyway. I absolutely love writing, it’s my escape really. Right now I work part-time at a little fast food stop and am full-time at school. School can slow me down sometimes, but it’s mostly been the aches in my right hand. I’m pretty sure it’s carpal tunnel due to all my writing and drawing. If that wasn’t there though, then I’d definitely be trying to write more. As for the future, oh, yes, I still see myself as a writer. It’s the whole reason why I changed my psychology major to English.

Given how hard it is to make a living as a writer, it’s understandable that many might be deterred from pursuing writing as a career. What’s your advice to those people?

If you love writing, nothing is stopping you but yourself. There will always be time to write. Got a full time job already? That’s fine! I’m sure you still have five minutes in the day to cram some words down. Do it on the toilet too, it doesn’t matter where! Scared of not making money off your writing? That’s a normal fear, but what are you writing for? For yourself or for a lot of money? If that’s the case then I suggest becoming a real-estate agent. I don’t want to sound rude with all that, but I’ve been in those people’s shoes. Before I knew it, I was using my excuses to stop me. Worry about the outcome later. For now, just concentrate on getting that damn book written down before someone else does.

Did you feel you learned something about yourself once you finally finished and published I Am Malory? Do you feel you came out of this whole thing a changed person?

Oh, most definitely! I’ve always seen this book as a dream or vision. Publishing it, holding it in my hands, I’ve always imaged that moment. I knew it was going to happen eventually, but when that time came it really felt like I did something big (oh boy if my child self saw me now). Now at least, it feels like something I can accomplish again and again.

Vevina-Anne A Swanson’s book is available now on Amazon.

Have any more advice for new authors on self-publishing? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.