Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How I Write: Authors on Their Writing Process - Zee Monodee

Today's author interview is with Zee Monodee, who lives in the beautiful island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. Zee writes dreamy, intelligent romances. 

Welcome to Creativity@Work, and thanks for talking about your writing process with us!

1.    When did you first start writing?
Pretty much exactly eleven years ago, on the coattails of my first diagnosis of breast cancer (yes, there’s been another a few years down the line. But hey, I’m still here and kicking, lol).

It was always my dream to write, and I was like, ‘one day, I will write a book’. But cancer made me realize that ‘one day’ might never come because you never know what life has in store for you, so I took the plunge and started penning my first work, The Other Side.

2.    What are your books about? Are you self / traditionally published or hybrid?
They’re always about love – that’s for sure. J Then there are layers of life as a woman and all that it encompasses, whether you’re a career girl in corporate, or you are of Indian descent, or heck, if you’re an assassin working for a clandestine agency, or even an immortal woman facing the prophecy of the end of the world.

At the moment, I am hybrid, with my backlist published by an e-publisher, but I am slowly phasing out into being entirely self-published/indie.

3.    What led to your love for literature? Any favorite books / teachers / writing mentors?
My father is the pivotal center of my love of words and books. He loves literature, and when other girls were being given Barbies for their birthdays, my dad was buying me tomes of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Far From The Madding Crowd, Jane Eyre, and later even Barbara Cartland romances. I always got books as gifts for any occasion, or when I got good grades. You could say I was a true bookworm, and still am to this day.

As for favorites, you have all of the above, and along the way, I have discovered authors such as Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes, Martina Cole, and Kristan Higgins (by the way, her Blue Heron series is the one I would nominate for best series ever, the books I would take with me to a desert island if I had to choose just one series!)

And writing mentors – I wouldn’t call him a mentor as I’ve never met the man, but Vikram Seth was a huge influence on my writing. I had been reading his A Suitable Boy just prior to my cancer diagnosis, just before I started writing, and what he did for India and Indian characters, I wanted to do for Mauritius and the world of Indo-Mauritian heroines like myself who have our grandparents and great-grandparents coming from India to settle as indentured labor on this tiny island, then a British colony.

4.    What's your writing process like? Do you outline? Do you write by hand / type / dictate?
I outline, almost completely, the whole book. A book is divided into chapters and I place down the conflicts based on this chapter timeline, then each chapter is broken into scenes and I already know whose POV I will be using for each. I used to be really detailed in my outlines before, but now, when I get to the scene level, it can have just one sentence that prompts to me to what happens; that’s all. It’s when actually writing the scene that I see how it takes place as it unfolds.

And because I outline, I can – thank God, lol – pick up the writing of a story at almost any point in time; I don’t need to be immersed in it from start to end to have it make sense, because the outline is there to clue me in already.

I always type. Love to lose myself in this moment when my hands are flying over the keys and I have lost absolutely all notion of time. J

5.    What's your editing process?
As an editor myself, I know what pitfalls to avoid, so my first draft is really rather clean in itself and it just needs a pass after a couple weeks so I can spot things I might’ve missed, such as echoes. Then I do have an editor go through it with a fine-toothed comb.

6.    Any favorite apps / software / technology for writing?
None. Just plain old Word, and sometimes OneNote when I have complex plotlines and for example, a series bible to follow.

7.    Any favorite apps / software / websites for marketing and promotion?
I’m still finding my footing with marketing and promotion, but the best decision I seem to have made lately is to get the help of an author assistant to help me with review efforts and the like. I do still believe that social media needs to remain you, the author, and not someone else interacting under the cover of your name. So I try to get out there and be in touch with my readers and my fans.

8.    What did you find most / least useful in learning to write?
I learned everything about writing by writing, completely self-taught, having cut my teeth on scathing and sometimes brutal critiques by more experienced authors when I was debuting.

But there comes a time where you have to stop actively learning. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying you end up knowing it all. Not at all. But it’s like a skill you’ve learned and you just need to brush it up once in a while. For example, take an experienced firefighter. You wouldn’t send him to the academy every month for a workshop because these are things he already knows. However, once a year or so, he could take a refresher course in protocols he is not familiar with or hasn’t encountered regularly on the job.

Just saying that you have to acquire experience – this is the best tool you can give yourself, and from there, set out on your own.

9.    Who or what inspires you? Where / how do you get your book ideas?
Absolutely no clue where the ideas come from! Lol. Always knew I had an overactive imagination, and I was always spinning alternative storylines for characters in the soap operas I watched with my mother. And this is exactly what I do with my writing – I see characters as people with an entourage, family, ties, and from there, I find the new characters who get their spotlight, and so on.

10.    When in the day do you usually write? For how long?
I don’t have a set schedule to write – I fit it in when I can between editing work. But it is always during the day, when the hubby is at work and the kid is in school. Late afternoon and then the evening are for housewife, mummy, and wife life. J

11.    Describe your desk / writing corner / favorite writing spot.
I always write at my desk. Right now, it’s in front of a window that gives views of my terrace where I have all my plants growing and the area from the third floor level on which we live. My desk is really rather rigidly set, with not a lot of paper and stuff. Laptop, Wi-Fi router, pocket dictionaries, my diary, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the landline phone. There’s also a small shelf where I keep a few scented candles as I love to have a candle burning when I’m writing or working.

But I can write just about anywhere. In fact, one of my titles, Calling Home, was written on a qwerty phone over the course of 5 weeks where I spent every morning in the waiting room of the hospital to get my radiation therapy after my second cancer diagnosis.

12.    Do you listen to music while you write? What kind of music?
I have soundtracks for all my stories, especially the character arc, and these are mainly pop music with the lyrics calling to me. But I never listen to music when working. I tend to blip out everything when I get in that ‘zone’ where the writing is flowing, so I don’t see or hear anything except the sound of the keyboard.

13.    Do you ever get writers' block? What are some ways you get around it?
I do get writer’s block, but that’s not how I call it. It’s more often a case of me not seeing how the story progresses, and when this happens, I know my brain is too tired to see sense there. I give myself a break, focus on other things, and if in 1-2 weeks I’m still not seeing the way, then I know I have to go back and find where I went wrong with the story and the characterization.

This used to happen to me a lot in the past; have got a slew of started-and-not-finished stories to prove it. But I went back and saw what was wrong, and as I grew both as a writer and as a person, I realized I was too idealistic in my characterization before, which is what made me hit the wall too often. Once I figured this out, I have gone out of my way to make my characters more flawed and human, and I don’t face this issue anymore.

14.    Do you now, or did you ever have any day jobs? Did they add to or detract from your writing?
I am a full-time editor. I freelance for a few e-publishers, and my main base of clients is indie authors. I often find myself pressed for time to write because I have editing deadlines, but the thing is, if you want something bad enough, you make time for it; you don’t wait to find the time, because that might never happen if you just let it be. So in a way, yes, but also, no – my day job doesn’t affect my writing. J

15.    How do you make the time to write?
I find a moment when I have time for myself. For example, for me, weekends are sacred family time, so I definitely do not work then (editing). It’s 2 days for me, and I binge watch my week’s TV shows on Saturday and then Sunday when everyone is out of the house, instead of me losing myself in the TV again, I use that time to write, or sometimes to pamper myself like a home mani-pedi. I find the time that I would’ve been using for something else that’s less necessary to my sanity, shall we say, and swap it for writing time. Same goes for the week when I find myself between editing projects.

16.    How much research do you do? What kind?
I tend to research everything – location, setting, background especially for the characters. For example, in my novel Whisk Me Up, the setting is North Yorkshire. I researched the area, the accent, the dialect, the attitude, to better portray the characters. Furthermore, the hero is a chef, so I read all I could about cooking skills and kitchen stuff (books like Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty and Ratio; Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential). The heroine is a fashion model – so fashion shows, fashion blogs, memoirs by former models, books by fashion insiders. Then, too, a big part of the story deals with her anorexia, so more research there into the condition, what it is to live with it, talking to former anorexics and getting their experiences straight.

I never leave anything to chance in my books – I try my best to have it as accurate and true to life as possible, because I feel that as an author with people reading my words, it is my responsibility to portray everything accurately.

17.    How much marketing do you do? Which platforms are you most active on?
For the moment, I am building a reader base for my indie work, and I don’t do much promo per se. I’m much more inclined to putting myself out there and talking to people online to let them know I am a human being and not a robot behind the books, lol.

And also, since I am at the start of my indie career and still building my flagship series, I am not focusing much on promotion until I have a sizeable backlist behind me, so I will have many choices to offer to my readers when I do go out to seek them.

18.    What project are you working on now?
It is the French translation of the first 2 books in the series The Daimsbury Chronicles. The one featured here has already been translated into French, and I am working to have the series as far as it’s up to now also be available on the French market.

Then once I am done and caught up, it’s onwards to Book 3 of that series, where the heroine is of Indian origin and battles breast cancer…so a story that is really close to my heart.

19.    What books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

I love fun and fluffy stuff (I totally admit I’m an airhead reader!), so chick-lit and small-town romance, romantic comedies, are always on my e-reader. But lately, I’ve also found myself developing a love for non-fiction, especially memoirs. If there’s an engaging voice in there, I will be snapped up. And right now, I am reading David Lebovitz’s memoir, The Sweet Life In Paris.

Stories about love, life, a melting-pot of culture

Author, editor, smitten wife, in-over-her-head mum to a tween boy, best-buddy stepmum to a teenage lad, bookaholic, lover of all things fluffy & pink (& handbags!), chronic shoeholic, incompetent housewife desperate to channel Nigella Lawson (and who’ll prolly always fail at making domestic goddess status)...

Zee Monodee hails from the multicultural, rainbow-nation island of Mauritius, in the southern Indian Ocean, where she grew up on the figurative fence—one side had her ancestors’ Indian and Muslim culture; the other had modernity and the global village. When one day she realised she could dip her toes into both sides without losing her integrity, she found her identity.

This quest for ’finding your place’ is what she attempts to bring in all her stories, across all the genres she writes. Her heroines represent today’s women trying to reconcile love, life, & relationships in a melting pot of cultures, while her heroes are Alpha men who often get put back into their rightful place by the headstrong women she writes. Love is always a winner in her stories, though; that’s a given.

Upon A Stormy Night 
Stand-alone prequel in The Daimsbury Chronicles small-town romance series.

Millionaire Lars Rutherford, from the village of Daimsbury in Surrey, England, came to Mauritius for work, and certainly not to find himself a woman.
Half-Indian, half-White career girl Simmi Moyer doesn’t need a man to validate her existence, contrary to what Indian mamas and aunties tend to harp on.

Yet, when these two meet on a blind date, everything they’ve believed about love gets put through the wringer while a storm ensconces them in a bubble for one night. Can they hope to step out the following morning with their hearts intact?

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