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  • Writer's pictureMolly McTernan

Author Interview: Valari Westeren



 

I am so, so excited to be interviewing Valari Westeren today! She recently had her short story Symbiosis published in an anthology put together by students from the The Author Conservatory.


I got the chance to read an ARC (advanced reader copy) and... wow, it was outstanding! If you are interested in getting a copy of this anthology for yourself, you may order one here and if you're interested in hearing my more detailed thoughts, you can read my review here.


But until then, I hope you enjoy this interview with Valari Westeren!


 

Welcome to my blog, Valari! Firstly, I'd love to have you introduce yourself.


Well, hello, Molly! Happy to be here. As an author featured in Voices of the Future, the Author Conservatory's very first student anthology, of course I'm an AC student. Beyond that, I'm a freelance proofreader, a critique group and accountability group manager at The Young Writer, a resident of Washington state, a proud cat owner, and basically a person who stays up way too late for her own good. Hence me answering your interview questions past 11pm. 😄


What first made you decide that you wanted to be an author?


When I was eight years old, I made a new friend (really, our moms arranged our first playdate), and as I often did at home, we played with Barbie dolls. But while I was used to interacting the Cinderella plot over and over again, the plots my friend took her Barbies through were...quite twisted! By that I mean both that she had tons of plot twists and that her poor characters were known to suffer torture and death at times.

 

Dark subject matter aside, she helped me realize that I didn't have to enact the same kind of story over and over. By introducing more challenging stakes, especially if I didn't know where my Barbie characters would end up, I could create stories much more exciting than "girl goes to ball and marries prince." And when I learned my friend wanted to be a writer, I decided that's what I wanted too.


Where do you think the idea for your story Symbiosis sparked from?


Looking back on it, it's so clear to me that "Symbiosis" is a pandemic story. An unexpected threat to the whole world, citizens with no control over government solutions, the fear to venture outside, the isolation, the temptation to despair...I guess some part of me had to process living through 2020. And even though my genres of science fiction and fantasy like to focus on characters at the forefront of world conflict, the "Chosen Ones" responsible for saving the world, I wanted to have a much smaller focus: the perspective of one teenage nobody looking out for her little brother.

 

I guess I no longer have the right to laugh at my childhood friend for creating such dark stories. 😂

 

On a lighter note, though, about half an hour away from my house there's a nursery called "Savage Plants." I guess the name stuck in my mind until I had to write about these plants!


What was the easiest part of the writing process for you?


Probably the beginning. Starting a story can be so stressful as you try to invent the perfect hook to draw readers in, but in a short story, you're forced to cut to the action quicker. So it was simple enough for me to know where the story should start: Brother is missing, and Sister is outside looking for him. Bam. 


What was the hardest part of the writing process for you?


Definitely the ending. See, I had a really tight outline for the story, which included the final scene. But after I got my characters to the location of the final scene, I realized mid-drafting that I couldn't end the story there. Too much had happened for my characters to emotionally process in one scene, and if I tried tying everything up with a bow right away, it wouldn't work. "Symbiosis" really isn't a tie-up-with-a-bow kind of story. So I had to come up with a non-bow ending that was still satisfying and felt complete. Easier said than done, but my editors let the story pass, so I'll assume that the ending works. 🙂


Do you have any tips for fellow writers who might be in the same place?


I love outlining, so going "off-book" can feel daunting, especially as you realize that your first idea for a change probably won't work so well. But I took comfort in what I heard science fiction author Maurice Broaddus say at a conference I attended: "The outline is the lie we all agree to." Outlines are great! But it's perfectly natural for writers to ditch them once they're actually drafting their books. It's like the difference between writing a recipe and actually cooking it, or inventing a scientific hypothesis and then testing it. In the practical stage of drafting, you may learn that your theory for how the story should go isn't so great after all. And that's okay! The more you write and the more you read, the more you can develop your story instincts for what works and what doesn't. And you're always free to seek an outside perspective from an editor or alpha/beta reader if you know something is wrong but you don't know how to fix it.


Now, for a fun question: What are some of your favorite books?


Ahh, I can never answer this question! I read way too widely. But if I limited myself to the "Symbiosis" genre of science fiction, I do love Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Wakers by Orson Scott Card, and Maxine Justice: Galactic Attorney by Daniel Schwabauer.


Thank you so much for doing this interview! Where can my readers find you online?


I'm not very active on social media, but you can follow me on Instagram at @valariwesteren. But for anyone who wants to be the first to know about my writing updates, as well as get snarky writing reflections from a sleep-deprived author, you can do that by joining my email list here.

 

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8 Comments


lanawoizeschke
lanawoizeschke
Dec 10, 2023

great interview, molly! (:

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Molly McTernan
Molly McTernan
Dec 11, 2023
Replying to

Thank you (and I love your new profile picture)!

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bella
Dec 09, 2023

Great interview!! So excited to read Voices Of The Future!!

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Molly McTernan
Molly McTernan
Dec 09, 2023
Replying to

It's pretty amazing!

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thecurlydutchgirl
Dec 09, 2023

Love how Valari realized she wanted to write! XD

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Molly McTernan
Molly McTernan
Dec 09, 2023
Replying to

Yes, me too!

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kahigerd
Dec 09, 2023

Great interview! The snarky writing reflections… lol

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Molly McTernan
Molly McTernan
Dec 09, 2023
Replying to

Haha, yes 🤣

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