Interview: Zonia Lin
This week, I got to sit down with the writing team, Zonia Lin. We chatted about a few of our favorite authors and how they divvy up the writing. They give us some insight into how they learned to listen to each other, not just as friends but also as writers to create their stories. They also take some time to give us some valuable information for those of us who want to join a writing team or are already in one.
Zonia: We are! Bring on the questions.
CJ: Hah! Okay, let’s start easy. You’re a writing team. Can you tell us a little about yourselves?
Zonia: I’ll start… then let Lin take over the keyboard. I’ve been writing stories since about 5th grade but didn’t have the confidence to self-publish until a few years back. I self-published back when Amazon KDP was still Create Space. Then about a year ago, Lin and I were talking about a new Patricia Briggs and saying we should totally tell our version of a paranormal romance mystery adventure thing. That’s when Magic is Real was born.
Lin: Wait. It wasn’t Patricia Briggs. It was Laurell K. Hamilton who I have followed for I don’t know how many years. Let’s just say ever since book 1 and she has what, 30 books now? I started writing erotic poetry and short stories. My mind works on three to seven stories at a time. I never thought I’d be able to flesh out a full-length novel. That’s where Zonia levels me out.
CJ: Laurell K. Hamilton is amazing. One of my dearest friends has followed her for that long. I’m not able to read a series with over 10 books. I get bored with the world, unfortunately, but I enjoy reading her stuff! Okay, next question. It’s a 2 parter… maybe 3. How did you both meet and at what point did you look at each other and say, “Let’s do this writing thing together”?
Zonia: I’m the faster typer, so I’ll handle this one for us. We met on Facebook 5 years and like 3 months ago, actually. It was a geek-themed group (that we’ve since outgrown, actually) and we’d been chatting/liking/posting to each other’s timelines for a year before we met in person. So wait. We’ve known each other for 6 years and months. Anyway. We met in person at the Chicago Waffle House just before heading over to C2E2 with other members of that geek group. The rest is history. We really haven’t gone a day without talking since then. Now, as for how we got to writing together. As Lin said, her mind has about 10-20 different stories floating around at any given time. She had just finished telling me about the Daughters of Anubis (after outlining for me a 5 book story about some Maharajah’s sons) when I said, want me to help?
Lin: Ok, it was the Modern Maharajah and his brothers. But yeah, I had an idea after re-reading Jim Butcher’s first Dresden novel and thought, let’s give a Chicago themed mystery story a try. Zonia added the “buddy-cop” theme as she calls it, and I did the erotica. Seph and Max were officially on paper.
CJ: Have you been writing together for the entire time you’ve known each other?
Lin: Well. Writing together started last November. Wait, it was October. We completed the first draft in January 2020. January was a hard month for us (medical reasons). It gave us time to flesh out the story and also gave us something to focus on other than those reasons.
CJ: So just a few months then. Have you had any disagreements about what or how to write something, or are you still in the “honeymoon” phase?
Zonia: We’ve never had a honeymoon phase. Sigh. We are both extremely opinionated and we BOTH ARE SO SURE WE ARE RIGHT. The most memorable disagreement we’ve had in Book 1 was when Lin said we needed to add at least 3 more sex scenes after we had already gotten ¾ of the way through the story. Alas, she was right. But I still fought the idea a bit. Seemed gratuitous.
Lin: Her with her big words. Sex is a part of any growing relationship and if it doesn’t advance the story, sure, it shouldn’t be in the writing. However, if you do with it what we’ve done in this first book, they are uncomfortable conversations that need to be had. Keeping in mind, Zonia says I am a singularity and the level of communication I require doesn’t easily exist in any relationship.
CJ: It sounds like you have some lively discussions. Now, I don’t want to spoil anything, but what are some uncomfortable conversations that you would include in a burgeoning relationship story?
Lin: Move aside, Zonia. This one is mine. The easiest one to list is the most difficult for people: Finances. You would think when starting a relationship, you don’t want to let that person into your debt. But, I think it’s one of those conversations that need to happen sooner rather than later. (Seph and Max delve deep into this conversation.) My favorite – the one that everyone likes to gloss over: Sex. Better put: Aftercare. (And as I had to explain to Zonia, that’s not a term or occurrence that only happens or is only for people “in the Lifestyle.”) As Laurell K tries to touch on with her level of poly, she misses some key things. These are basic conversations that need to happen when building a partnership and if done right, exploring each other’s sexual pleasures translate into stronger communication within the relationship. If you can talk about sex with your partner, you can talk about anything.
Zonia: And let me just say, like Seph, I’m from a conservative background, and the first time we wrote an uncomfortable conversation for the book, I WAS UNCOMFORTABLE, but once you let go of your discomfort, you learn quite a bit about yourself.
CJ: I’d never considered aftercare as something that you would do in a “regular” relationship, but it makes perfect sense. Can you tell us a little about the story without giving too much away?
Zonia: Hmm. Hold on, while we figure out how to do that without Spoilers.
CJ: Of course!
Zonia: Magic is Real is everyday life with magic thrown into it. Not to get too woo-woo, but depending on how you look at the world, you’ll see the magic in everything. So what this story does is invites you into the relationship of a pair of women as they navigate everyday situations. They are comfortable with each other, but as their relationship extends to outside partners, they work on integrating those elements. There are also those moments where they learn more about each other and each other’s skills. But that leads into Book 2 and would definitely be a spoiler.
Lin: Let me jump in. I’m going to give a spoiler (I’m having to sit on Zonia as I type this) Book 1 is from Seph’s perspective. Book 2, is from Max’s, and the magic will be full swing as Max is the stronger one in Magic and the more confident one with her sexuality.
CJ: What was your inspiration for these stories?
Zonia: Well, the mundane parts (i.e. the parts that aren’t magic related) really are a slice of our lives. The bad relationships we had just gotten out of and the fights we’d had between us. The family stuff we’ve been working to overcome. That is the basis of Seph and Max. The magic comes from Lin’s knowledge of the occult and my knowledge of mythology and history. We both love the alternate versions of fairy tales. Maleficent is one of our favorites right now. And there’s a series from I think KM Shea who retells Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast. But again, we wanted to toss our hats in and see if we could put our own spin on them.
Lin: Wait! I forgot to mention Mercedes Lackey (sorry, I’m talking to Zonia as she typed and just remembered her.) Serpents Gate was in my head quite a bit in Max’s greenhouse.
CJ: Gurl, I’m a hoe for Mercedes Lackey. She’s phenomenal. And I realized I lied to you earlier! When I said I get bored with the long series, I don’t get bored with her stuff or Jim Butcher.
Zonia: YES!!!!! Sweetie, not that you need forgiveness, but you’re forgiven. Fire Rose is my favorite and Mercedes Lackey is in a league all her own!
CJ: Okay, so let’s look at actually writing things. What is it you like and dislike about the entire writing process and do you compliment each other on that?
Lin: I am horrible at writing dialog. I’m also not a great typist. Zonia takes care of both of those mostly. Worldbuilding and sex scenes are my loves, and that’s what I focus on.
Zonia: I am definitely the typist and the speller. Lin is phonetic in her spelling, so reading her drafts and adjusting the spelling and paragraph spacing is fun. I’m not a strong world builder. For me, I will drop pop culture references to describe a person or place. Lin definitely covers that well for us so we’re not getting in trouble with too much “product placement” in our stories. I think more so than that. What I dislike the most is when our direction for the story diverges. Meaning where I see a scene going isn’t where Lin sees it. That’s when we get our own uncomfortable conversations because where we diverge in the storytelling is also where we diverge in our personality. As with our relationship, it’s those differences that end up complimenting each other and makes the story stronger. IMO.
CJ: What have you learned as a writing team that you could share with other authors who are already in a team or thinking about it?
Lin: Don’t be afraid to listen. Some days, we didn’t type a word in the story. We talked. We saw what the story meant to both of us and where we saw it going. We shared what we wanted to see in the story. Plotting things out with your partner is essential.
Zonia: I second that last sentence! There’s a memorable moment in the writing where I saw dialog between Dominic and Seph ending a certain way. Lin looks at me and says “Why would he say that when he’s about to do this?” Apparently, Lin had already envisioned the scene and the next chapter and was outlining in her Word doc but hadn’t mentioned to me where the story was going as I reviewed her draft in Scrivener. That was a lively 10:30 pm conversation.
Lin: That’s another thing I’d advise writing teams to avoid: writing conversations late at night or before food/coffee. And don’t feel pressured to have 10 books to release in one year. Those writing pairs appear to be writing individual stories and then swapping between themselves. If you are writing as a pair, that means writing the story TOGETHER.
CJ: Okay, I think that’s some fabulous advice reminiscent of the whole, “Don’t go to bed angry.” If you start that 10 pm conversation about a story you really have to finish it and no one is at their best when they’re sleep deprived!
CJ: We are running out of time, but I’d like to ask one more thing. I’m dying to know if you have any writing quirks that drive the other one crazy.
Lin: Zonia hates how I write sex scenes. I almost always leave out 80 percent of the dialog. I write very wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. And if she can’t visualize the position, we usually end up Googling it. So yeah, that’s fun. (facepalm)
Zonia: It’s not my fault she’s more experienced than me! But anyway. Lin’s phonetic spelling gets me every time. Faze instead of Phase. Oh, what’s another. Min instead of Minutes. Yeah, she writes in shorthand. UNLESS IT’S A SEX SCENE. Then we have full stops where they need to be. Paragraphs where they need to be. I’m telling you, I think she does it on purpose. (and she’s giggling as I type this, so I rest my case.)
CJ: Wow, thank you so much, ladies. I had a fantastic time here with you this evening!
Both: Same here! Loved speaking with you and hope you have a great evening.
You can connect with Zonia Lin via these avenues: