BTWP: Ari Susu-Mago

The Writer’s Platform-Building Campaign wrapped up recently, and I am very sad to see it go. I’ve met so many wonderful bloggers and writers through the Campaign, and my First Priority folder in Google Reader has put on some serious weight. (I can’t think of a better thing to be called fat, though. Seriously. Those bloggers are amazing.)

Today’s interview is with a blogger who has earned herself a coveted spot in the aforementioned folder, and I’m sure you’ll agree that she deserves it. Please welcome the fuzziest of flying mangos,

Ari Susu-Mago

What is your earliest writing memory? What did you write about? Did it have a title?

I don’t remember the first thing that I physically wrote down, but when I was five, I fancied myself quite the raconteur. Most of these stories were dictated to my mother, who dutifully recorded them on a yellow legal pad and kept them in a three-ring binder that we have to this day. I don’t think they had titles, but the characters were fairly specific. One set of stories (some of which were contributed by my younger sister) involved anthropomorphic aphids who lived on a flower. We’d just learned what aphids were, and I think we were rather taken with the pathos of having one’s home literally uprooted in order to decorate someone’s table. In the non-aphid stories, Disney’s Aladdin and Princess Jasmine showed up with great regularity. As for the first story I remember typing on my dad’s computer, it was about a pack of sentient, telepathic velociraptors. Yep, I was a weird kid. I guess I still am.

When you were 6, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A paleontologist. I decided this at age five and never wavered until the age of about twelve or thirteen when I started to consider writing as a potential career instead of a hobby. But I still love dinosaurs with a passion, and nothing can send me into giddy raptures like walking into the Mesozoic hall of a natural history museum. Naturally, going on a paleontological dig is one of the top items on my bucket list.

What is the best compliment your writing has ever received?

Ahhh, that’s a hard one! I mean, sometimes compliments that might be smaller on an objective level mean more to you if you really love/respect the person who said them. Can I pick two?

One of my creative writing professors (himself a Pultizer Prize-winning author) once told me that he was “very impressed” by my work. “You are, it seems, an actual writer — you have a strong, vivid voice, a good feel for character, that that most mysterious of all writerly qualities, authority. I hope you plan to continue writing.” I was simultaneously really flattered and really confused because, while I got impression this was supposed to be a big compliment, I had no idea what he meant by “authority”. So went to to look it up. In case it’s an unfamiliar term for you too, it turns out that “authority” refers to (in the words of Hilari Bell), “prose that displays enough skill, professionalism and polish that it convinces the reader that the author knows what he’s doing. The reader (subconsciously) takes in the easy grace of the sentences and says, ‘This person can tell me a story! I’ll trust him enough to suspend my disbelief and give him a chance.'” So yeah, hearing that from someone like him was pretty amazing.

The compliment that I treasure for more sentimental reasons was when a beloved high school English teacher earnestly told me (after reading a creative writing assignment that I’d opted to do instead of an essay) that I had a “a real gift” for writing. I’d been told that I was a good writer before, but it just meant so much more coming from him. I think I glowed for the rest of the week.

Can you tell us a little about your current WIP?

The thing about doing National Novel Writing Month all the time is that you’re forever generating new WIPs, so I’m not sure which to tell you about! The one I’m writing right now for NaNoWriMo is about holographic racehorses and headstrong little brothers, among other things. However, the one that I usually mean when I talk to people about “my novel” is a quirky fantasy story about a teenage boy whose best friend gets turned into a parrot (and who then has to find a way to change her back). It’s got mystery, adventure, parallel universes, vague hints of Norse mythology, and an excess of snark. I’ve been working on it since I wrote the first draft two years ago, and part of me is dying to just go ahead and query the damn thing already, but I know it’s nowhere near ready to be sent out. So after NaNo this year, back to editing I go…

Do you follow a routine when it comes to writing?

Apart from procrastination, you mean? Well, I’m a tea addict, so having a warm mug by my side is pretty standard. Otherwise, I’m rather inconsistent about the regularity of my writing; it tends to be either when I’m inspired or whenever I have a deadline to write to. (This is part of why NaNoWriMo is so good for me.) Fortunately, I’m also pretty good at writing even when I’m not inspired, so as long as I have a free hour or two to devote to writing, I can usually get something done in that space of time.

What do you find hardest about writing?

Worldbuilding. Oy vey, the worldbuilding. I write sci-fi and fantasy, so worldbuilding is part and parcel of those genres, but it’s not something that comes to me naturally! I have friends who love it and who sometimes get so involved in building their universes that they don’t always get around to writing the stories set there. I’m the complete opposite. I always start with the characters and story, and the specifics of the world tend to grow up around that. There are definitely tricky aspects to this method. Often, I just want to flail my hands and go, “It doesn’t matter! Who cares if they eat rice instead of barley? That’s not important to this part of the story!” Sometimes I’m right about this, and sometimes I’m spectacularly wrong; I usually have to wait for beta reader feedback before I know one way or the other.

What is your favorite book (at least currently)?

Oh nooo! The awful question! I love so many different books for different reasons—how am I supposed to prioritize them?

Well, I’ll go with my favorite book that I read recently: Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It’s a close call because I’ve read a bunch of amazing books this year (When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and Goliath by Scott Westerfeld also come to mind), but Alexie’s book was so emotionally moving while also managing to be laugh-out-loud hilarious. And it’s one of those books that ends with this wonderful, satisfying resonance, the kind where you sit back and go, “Yes. That was the way it was supposed to end.”

What non-writing hobbies do you like to participate in?

I’ve been singing about as long as I’ve been telling stories, so I’m very involved in my university’s undergraduate choir. And I’m a card-carrying member of my school’s nerd club (or would be, if we were the sort of club that had cards)—we get together and talk about movies, books, TV shows, games, and more. ‘Tis awesome. I also really enjoy the fact that there’s a lot of membership overlap between these two groups.

Outside of school, I enjoy reading (duh), hanging out with friends, people-watching, traveling, learning languages, drinking tea, baking scones and bread, taking walks, and performing random little acts of kindness (e.g. putting encouraging sticky notes on bathroom mirrors). And because I want to work in the publishing industry someday, I spend a lot of time on the internet reading the blogs and tweets of authors, agents, and editors. I hope this doesn’t make me a stalker…I mean, that’s what they’re there for, right? To be read?

If you had $1,000,001, what would you do with the $1?

Hide it somewhere for some lucky person to find! I think taping it inside a book cover could be fun….

Give us one random fact about yourself.

I speak fluent lolcat. And I mean that literally—in spite of this general impression people seem to have of me being intelligent and well-spoken, I regularly revert to asking my roommate, “teh fone noms, i can haz dem?” (translation: “Can I borrow your phone charger?”). After spending several weeks in close proximity to me while on tour with our choir, a friend of mine remarked that he had “never met anyone who speaks more like the internet than [I] do.” Iz tru.

To learn more about Ari and her writing, visit her blog, A Fuzzy Mango With Wings, and follow her on Twitter at @AriSusuMago.

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