Mariko Tamaki’s first short novel, Cover Me, was published in 2000.
Since then Mariko has published two collections of humorous short fiction, True Lies: The Book of Bad Advice and Fake ID. Faze caught up with Mariko to chat about her new novel, (You) Set Me on Fire.
ABOUT THE BOOK: A story about college, love and fire (hence the name), (You) Set Me on Fire centers around a seventeen year old girl named Allison Lee. Allison takes up residence in Dylan Hall at St. Joseph’s College, where she discovers the true gift of freshman year: the opportunity to reinvent herself.
Unfortunately, she feels like the odd one out, much like her past. This changes when she meets Shar who becomes the center of Allison’s world. Follow the journey of Allison who learns to love and accept, while trying to avoid being burned in the process.
Did anything specific inspire you to create this story about a girl who seems to keep attracting fire?
It’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but the truth is that I, personally, have been on aflame, twice. Once when I was fourteen or so I set my dress on fire while I was dancing to Enya in my living room (with candles, it’s kind of a long story, the dress ended up taking most of the damage), and once when I was hanging out with a friend in a soccer field.
Looking back on it, as I started working on this book, I was kind of struck at the destructive nature of that time in my life. I was kind of casually careless back then, I did a lot of letting things happen instead of making things happen. So that’s a lot of how this main character and her relationship with fire came about, as part of a memory of my own ridiculousness as a teenager.
At the mid-way point of writing this book, did you ever have doubts that you would be able to finish?
This book is the longest book I’ve ever written. It was a frequently overwhelming experience. I remember the first time I tried to print it and it took a whole package of paper! I thought, this is massive! It’s too long! What kind of person has the time to read this whole thing?! Then I read the first section (since edited out) and I hated it. AUGH, I thought, it’s not even worth printing! I suck!
Part of writing is sticking with the process when you hit these fear walls, these monsters in your brain that tell you something will never get done, that you suck, and so on. These monsters, and their criticisms, are the enemy of creativity. They are never right. You do not suck. It’s possible to have a bad hair day; it’s not possible that you suck.
The thing is, even when I hate most of a manuscript, I’m typically able to find at least one thing that works. It could be a joke. A line. A clever metaphor. I grab that thing and hang onto it for dear life. If you can write one good thing, you can write a book full of good things. That spark, that one good bit, is evidence your potential amazingness. Potential amazingness is worth fighting for.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Of course I believe in writer’s block! It’s awful. Ugh. I hate it. It usually strikes, for me, around a particular writing project. I recently put aside a book I was working on because I was just SO stuck, it was painful. Every time I sat down to write I felt like I was trapped in a crappy restaurant, with nothing but crappy food on the menu. So frustrating! The best remedy I’ve found is to start writing something else. When I’m completely stuck I work on a blog entry (marikotamaki.blogspot.ca), I write a review of something. Anything to get me typing.
If someone were to ask your advice about how to get published, what would tell them?
Start small. If you want to write a story, start online. Get a tumblr account or a blog and post your progress there. Get online and encourage people to read what you’re writing. The first publishing I did was self-publishing. I printed up my stories and stapled them into zines. I sold them and traded them at zine fairs. I left them in bookstores on tables and stuck in with the other books. Then I started submitting my work to literary magazines. I got a story or two accepted.
Eventually I worked my way up to anthologies. Got a story or two accepted there. And finally, after I took a writing class at a local college, I worked my way up to getting published by a small Toronto publisher called McGilligan Books. From there, the rest is (my) history.
Basically, it’s like this. Start small. Work your way up. Don’t give up.
To learn more about Mariko Tamaki’s novels, check out her website.