After working as a professional microbiologist, a pottery maker, a librarian, and a bookstore salesperson, Marianne G. Petrino finally found her passion when she turned to writing. Initially a dedicated – and prolific – fan fiction writer Petrino turned to novel writing when she decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. Every November, thousands of people commit to write a novel during the month – and Petrino was among those who successfully completed her project. Three books later, her willingness to attempt the task of completing an entire novel in just a month seems to have paid off. Although urban fantasy is her focus, she’s also written a travel memoir. When she is not traveling, Petrino lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her “long standing and suffering” husband of 34 years and her beloved cat.
1. What prompted you to write your first book, Coffee with Thunderbolts?
As they say, “The road to Hell….” It all started in September, 2010 with a trip to Sicily. My mother went with my husband and me on this journey, but on the condition that I write a book about our experiences. Although I agreed, I did not know if I could write anything of that length. Most of my writing to that point had consisted of short, serialized Thundercats fan fiction (300,000 + words) that I had done for years. I did the National Novel Writing Contest as a test of my ability to produce a manuscript and to learn all about self-publishing. My novel Coffee with Thunderbolts was the result. My first NaNoWriMo was a transcendental experience. I planned on exceeding the daily word count to finish by Thanksgiving, so it really was the proverbial “sink or swim.” I had the beginning of the book and the end in mind at the start. Filling in the gooey middle was the challenge. I was a “pantser.” This meant that I worked without an outline, and I just let the story go where it would from the defined start to the defined end. Surprisingly, I got into a writing rhythm pretty quickly, and I thanked my fan fiction experience for that. Since I was working an on-call job at my local library, and the work had dried up because of a budget disaster, my time was my own. Two stints of two hours daily was enough to get my word count in for each day. After completion, I allowed the novel to “ferment” until January, 2011 before picking up the self-publishing challenge and adding to my grey hair. By November of 2011, I had also written and self-published the travel memoir, Full Tank & No Damage: Three on a Sicilian Odyssey. My sequel novel, A Star Rose in Cerami, was written during NaNoWriMo 2011 and self-published in 2012.
2. Before writing books you worked in libraries and book stores … and before that you were a microbiologist. What in the world prompted you to switch from microbiology – after many expensive years of education – to retail book sales?
The answer to that question is a four letter word: life. My husband was in the Coast Guard. We had to move to Governor’s Island in New York in 1983. My attempt to learn a portable job and be a hospital medical technologist fizzled. However, during our stay on Governor’s Island, I had started to draw seriously, and I put my work into science fiction conventions at the art shows. When I returned back to our home in Arlington, Virginia, I was looking to try something new, so I took up pottery, and I eventually ran a short-lived pottery business while diving into libraries and the book trade. This was all fueled by my intense panic attacks, which have plagued me since the fourth grade. I got overwhelmed where science was concerned. I was never great in chemistry. Yet I was doing recombinant DNA work before moving to New York with my husband. You have to recall the time: in the early 80s, there were few mentors for women in science. I have always wondered if I could have risen above my fears, if I had the counsel of a female mentor scientist in the field. I have said that when I left science I entered the woods and the path less taken. The path less taken is less taken because it a complete jump into the unknown. It was a bizarre move for me given my panic attacks. However, I have always had a supportive patron in my husband and that has made the journey, for good or ill, possible.
3. Since you spent so many years in book stores – Barnes & Noble, Borders, and B. Dalton — and libraries – Smithsonian Libraries, Arlington Public Library, Fairfax County Public Library, and the National Library of Medicine – you’ve obviously had a lot of exposure to books. With the vast number of authors you’ve come across and likely even met over the years, I’m curious which ones are your favorites and who you see as your biggest influences?
To be honest, I really don’t have a favorite author. I love them all because I have always learned something, whether consciously or unconsciously, from each one. Every mind-meld in the process known as reading has value, and that congress influences every writer in ways seen and unseen in thought and process that cannot be catalogued. When I began to write, I just sat down and started storytelling without attempting to copy anyone’s style or voice. What emerged was a somewhat formal voice and manner of storytelling that young readers can find off-putting. Whenever I put a paragraph into the website I Write Like, I am often amazed at what author comes up as a comparable answer. It is safe to say that the science fiction writers of my youth had to form the backbone of any influence, as I used to subsist totally on a diet of speculative fiction of all types. I tend to read more non-fiction over fiction these days.
Because I have attended many Science Fiction conventions, the American Book Seller conventions, and have worked on my husband’s cable access TV show, Fast Forward Contemporary Science Fiction, I have, indeed, crossed paths with many authors. It is always fascinating to me to hear what authors have to say about life and work. Authors, in general, are more similar than dissimilar, as being a writer is a solitary way of being, no matter how many people are around you. Some that have especially stood out in my memory were Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Diana Wynne Jones, Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, and Terry Pratchett. Over the last few years, I have met many new indie authors via Twitter, whose work I have enjoyed.
4. I’ve noticed that currently you’re also freelancing as a voice actor – do you think that playing other characters for a living has influenced your writing at all?
Except for doing character auditions, I have yet to score any character jobs as a voice actor. That is why my Twitter account still says “aspiring” voiceover artist. It is a harder field to break into than writing for a traditional publishing house. Being a writer gives me insight into character for an audition, but quite frankly, my experience years ago as a D & D dungeon master feeds performance.
5. From the little bit I know of you, I feel like I see a little bit of you in both Elena and Rosemarian. Do you agree? Was that intentional?
I agree with the idea that all novels are memoirs in disguise. The story of Coffee with Thunderbolts is a mirror story. A young women and an older one reflect each other. The adage is: Write what you know! I am all the characters in my novels and in my fan fiction. It is amazing what you can discover about yourself.
6. What’s with the interest in tigers? It’s in your email address, your company name (NineTiger), and your website title (The Star the Tiger Follows).
I practice a variety of metaphysical disciplines to deal with my panic attacks and challenges, one of them being shamanism. To quote Master Khan from the TV series Kung Fu, “And from the tiger we learn tenacity and power!” To be successful as a self-employed person, you definitely need tenacity and resilience, whether you have a patron or not. The tiger is one of my power animals from which I derive strength and courage. There are others, including the horse and the hawk, which bestow other gifts. But you must admit, the tiger is one heck of a charismatic megavertebrate! The Nine comes from my day of birth. By Chinese horoscope, I was born in the year of the wood sheep, in the month of the tiger and in the hour of the snake. I may be fretful, but I can claw and bite when necessary.
7. What publishing platform or process did you use? I notice that your company is listed as the publisher for your books and I’m also curious as to what aspects of the process you handled yourself.
I never wanted to do another business after my run with pottery. However, when I made the decision to attempt voice acting after I left my library job, I had no choice but to form a sole proprietorship. The laws (county, state and federal) would not allow any other way. Since I decided to formally self-publish my novels and my travel memoir, I folded it all together under one banner. If I had not pursued voice acting, I’d have printed my books for the enjoyment of friends and family only.
Regarding book production, I started with Lulu as a platform because it seemed easy to use. I had helped a friend get her novel up in PDF form on Lulu before I had even started my novel. This was also before Createspace really took off. Since I was a sole proprietor, I wanted my own ISBNs from Bowker. This also allowed me to do formal copyright with the Library of Congress. All this shows that I was serious about being a business in the eyes of the almighty IRS. For Coffee with Thunderbolts, I used images I licensed from Fotolia and made a blended cover of a coffee cup with an oval of lightning. I wrote and edited the book (beware, the typos!!). There were no beta readers because I was working fast (not wise). All marketing, such as it was, was done by me. I published the book in trade paper and, too late, published digitally. I taught myself how to create an epub file and gained even more grey hair. I approached my other books the same way, except I began to use my own photography for covers.
8. Aside from writing your three books, what other writing endeavors are you or have you been involved in?
I still maintain my page of classic Thundercats fan fiction because I am not done yet with my tales, and it remains my guilty pleasure. I am hoping to add new stories soon. I have sorely neglected the original characters I have developed to play with the ones established on the TV show. I also have been doing more short fiction. I write for the monthly science fiction Microstory Contest on LinkedIn. Some of these stories may be published in the future. Another contribution to a science fiction anthology, which combines cooking and speculative fiction, is also in the works (stay tuned).
9. Do you have any other books in the pipeline right now?
Yes. I have written a young adult novel that is part fantasy and part science fiction and comes from my NaNoWriMo 2012 efforts. I have currently presented it to a science fiction/multiple genre publisher. No word yet if there is any interest. Fingers crossed. Drums banged. Rattle sounded. However, I am not sure if I will self-publish it, if this action fails.