This is a continuation of the interview with Maria McDonald, which was posted here on Monday!
ASED: What’s your ideal writing environment? Outdoors, indoors, coffee, tea?
MMD: Mostly indoors. I have a designated couch my husband has labelled my ‘writing couch’. It’s a
recliner, with the armrest just the perfect height for me to put pen down to paper and scribble
to my heart’s content. This, with a cup of steaming hot tea, either late at night (anytime between
11PM-3AM) or early in the morning (8-10AM – when my husband is still asleep) – Heaven!
ASED: How do you get yourself to sit down and write?
MMD: I just do. When you work full-time and have all these thoughts running freely inside your head,
you have to find the time to jot it all down, otherwise I’d get crazy and/or forget them; neither
of them is an appealing prospect I try to squeeze in about 10 minutes in the morning, between
having finished getting dressed for work and bolting out the front door. At my 1-hour lunch break,
I sit in an empty meeting room, plug my ears with music from my iPod and write until the 59th
minute. I sometimes write in-between stirring whatever it is I’m cooking for dinner. After dinner,
I try to squeeze in anywhere between 30 minutes up to 1 hour before bed. At a very early stage,
I even tried to do this on date nights with my husband, when we were waiting for food orders to
arrive. He had jokingly said that the waitress might think I was a food critic. But I’ve stopped doing
this now, and focus more on enjoying each other’s company.
(I hope this is the answer you’re after – let me know if it isn’t).
ASED: Do you have any explanation for why you’ve always had an inclination toward writing?
MMD: I grew up with a strict, traditional set of Asian parents. There were a lot of customs to abide to, a
lot of rules not to break. Talking back to your parents was an unheard concept in our custom. Not
even that, but just saying to them ‘I understand where you’re coming from, but this is how I see it’
would have serious ramifications. I had very little voice, so I started writing EVERYTHING I felt and
thought of that I could never voice to my parents in my journal.
ASED: The dream that inspired your first novel – what was it? How did the rest of the novel form
MMD: It was only a fragment; one of those dreams that jumped from one setting/scene to another and
when you woke up you went “well, that was one crazy dream.” But what I remembered vividly
from this dream was about a woman being thrown into the dungeon, being hosed down by cold
water as a form of torture and lashed out to the point of almost passing out when her male friend
A lot of dreams had stayed with me; I’ve always had a pretty imaginative mind, and this wasn’t
the first time I actually started stringing together before and after scenes from this particular
segment of a dream I had. It was only that this was the first one I actually decided to write about.
So, the rest of the novel… I started thinking about who this girl could be; what things she could
have possibly done that made her end up in a dungeon, tortured by up to five men; who the male
character would be. I’ve always been fascinated about stories about the olden days – like Prince
and Princesses, Kings and Queens from countries such as England, France, Spain. Movies like ‘The
Man In The Iron Mask’ and ‘Ever After’ heavily influenced this novel, too.
Later on that day, ‘Eleanor I’ was born – a peasant girl and a quiet achiever who is content to live
her life away from the spotlight until a chance meeting with a dashing young Prince. They fall in
love, but their love is against the law, because peasants, at that time, aren’t supposed to consort
with someone above her status (see the striking resemblance to the ‘Ever After’ storyline?). So the
King sends his one and only son to study abroad, thinking that the distance will eventually severe
their romance. When it only strengthens their bond, the King, with his cunning advisor, plots a
cunning plan against Eleanor; one that will get her arrested and tortured and ultimately test the
foundation of her relationship with the Prince.
ASED: What are your other novels about, and why do they remain unpublished? By choice? If so,
can you explain it to us?
MMD: Whilst each novel is different, and the character has many forms, the major factors tying all the
novels in common are:
1. A lead heroine.
2. Said female character facing a major adversity in her life.
3. Details of trials and tribulations as she works through and overcome said adversity.
Eleanor II is naturally a continuation of Eleanor I. Rid of all the threats hanging over her head
and finally allowed to marry King Patrick, Eleanor believes that the worst is over; that her most
challenging task ahead of her is how to create and uphold a more just law for the Kingdom she now
co-rules with her husband; how to appreciate the luxuries she has found surrounding her without
ever forgetting her roots; how she could care better for the poor, the roots and backbones of the
Peeling Layers, as I said, is a story about Elizabeth Hartley, a product from a Caucasian Father and
an Asian Mother. She attracts the attention of Michael Bradford, the son of the billionaire James
Bradford, as well as a notorious high school bully Gordon Crane.
This originally started as 1 HUGE novel, detailing the intertwining lives of Elizabeth Hartley (Lizzy
to those closest and dearest to her) and Michael Bradford for 10 years, from the first day they
entered and met in high school to living in the real world. That is, until the novel reached 1284
pages and Microsoft Word kept crashing on me, and I was forced to separate this novel into 4
Lizzy & Michael II recount their adventures during College in NYU, getting more adventurous in
their drink choices, forming their opinions of one-night stand, casual sex/friends with benefits
and deciding whether or not they want to uphold the label of ‘conscientious students’ they have
received in high school.
Lizzy & Michael III details their adventures in growing up in the real world; of getting up every
day to ‘do the grind’ whilst not necessarily enjoying what they do for a living; of mastering the
balancing act of maintaining their closeness with each other and weaving relationships with their
respective partners; those who might not ‘get’, or agree with their plutonic relationship.
Lizzy & Michael IV is the ending to the ten-year saga. Michael Bradford has finally gotten his one
and fervent wish, now dating Elizabeth Hartley, finding happiness, which sometimes is in the last
place you look.
There’s a work in progress currently titled ‘Evelyn’, and by far is the darkest novel I’ve written.
Raped by a fellow student when she was sixteen, and almost succumbed to the same fate during
a home invasion by a thug who was put in jail by her policeman’s boyfriend, Evelyn made a drastic
career change from primary school teacher to CIA agent.
As to why they remain unpublished – well, for a long time, I knew that what I’ve written was a
really rough first draft, so I wasn’t ready to approach publishers/agents with the work I wasn’t
happy with for anyone else to read. Plus, by the time I finished writing Lizzy and Michael, my
writing style has changed immensely. So I revisited and revamped Eleanor I, making the sentences
flow in better fluidity.
Also, for a long time, I didn’t know what to do next. Only in the last couple of years I started
researching on how to get my books published. I joined Queensland Writers’ Centre this year,
went to a Writers’ Workshop in another state, and actually submitted ‘Peeling Layers’ for a
Manuscript Development Program (couldn’t submit Eleanor I because they require a specific
genre). Since joining QWC, I’ve started entering some competitions designed to closely dissect and strengthen my current manuscripts, and I plan to do so until I get in…