Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Author Interview: Emily Mah Tippetts: Full Member of SFWA: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

Emily Mah Tippetts writes science fiction as Emily Mah and romance as E.M. Tippetts. A lifelong New Mexican, she now lives in Santa Fe with her husband and children. She is a former attorney and jewelry designer and is now a stay at home mother, writer, polymer clay artist, and book formatter. Her company, E.M. Tippetts Book Designs, formats books for a broad range of indie authors and has helped put many books on the bestseller lists. To learn more about Emily, visit

It will be nice if one of the question you answer in a video and send it to me along with these answers.

Your real name and pen name?

My real name is Emily Mah Tippetts, so my pen names are just variations on it. E.M. Tippetts is what I use for my indie published romances. 

Please share some of the best memories of your childhood

I grew up in northern New Mexico, which is high desert, so I got to spend a lot of time hiking and camping. In the winter we got good snow fall (this region is very high altitude) so I have a lot of great memories of skiing, and some not so great memories of trying to ice skate. My father's a hobby pilot, so I also spent a lot of time as a hangar rat, at airports, listening to veteran pilots try to one up each other with anecdotes about flying. One of them had his license signed by Orville Wright. Another got shot down five times in WWII and called himself a "reverse ace". And I could go on. Suffice it to say, I was a very lucky kid.
About your education

I have an American high school diploma, but I also have an International Baccalaureate (which is an internationally recognized high school level diploma). I earned my IB at the United World College of the Atlantic, which is actually an international high school ("college" is the British term for HS) in a castle on the south coast of Wales. From there I was able to get into Oxford University, where I did my bachelors in philosophy, politics, and economics, and after that I went to law school at UCLA. After twenty years in school, I was so glad to be done! (But also very grateful to have the degrees).

After I finished law school, I attended the Clarion West Writer's Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy and that's how I got my professional start in writing.

What career did you plan during your education days

I've always wanted to be a writer, but was raised to believe I needed a fallback, so I trained as a lawyer. My advice to anyone still in school is that a fallback isn't a bad thing to have, but don't put your dreams on hold entirely to train up in it. I didn't work hard at my writing while I was in school, and it's taking me longer to catch up to my peers in the publishing field as a result.
What languages you can speak and write?

Just English. New Mexico has a large Spanish speaking population, and my husband is fluent, thanks to the two years he lived in Argentina on his mission. Because I'm used to hearing Spanish, I think I will probably never learn to speak it, because being in a room of Spanish speakers doesn't instill in me a sense of "I really need to understand what they're saying!" I'm just used to it. In school I did two years of Latin and two years of Russian, so I can read the Cyrillic alphabet. It takes me a little while to sound out the words, and I usually have no idea what they mean, but I can at least replicate the way they sound (with a heavy American accent.)

What is your biggest source of inspiration in life

I'm religious. I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so I've got all the usual Christian answers to that one. My relationship with God. The Atonement of Christ.

And then, twisted as it sounds, a serious car accident I was in as a child inspires me. Our car was hit head-on on the highway, so the combined impact was over 125 miles an hour. The fact that we all survived and made full recoveries is a miracle, and it taught me that you never take life for granted. Live now because there may not be a later.
What hurts you most in this world

Derision. People who put down those they don't understand. The arrogance to believe that anyone whose different must be "stupid" and not worth listening too is a very, very ugly trait, and it's far too common.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced? How did you overcome it?

While it's easy to focus on things like recovering from that childhood car accident or passing the New Mexico Bar Exam, I think the biggest challenge we all face is to build a life we're satisfied with at the end. A life we can look back on and say, "I couldn't have done it any better." And we all have to overcome it one day at a time by not putting off our dreams.
If you had to live a day of your life as one of the living or dead personality, who would it be and why?

I think I'd like to see a day in the life of one of my Chinese ancestors. My father's family fled China when the Maoists came to power (my grandfather backed the Imperial Family), and my father was born here in the USA, so as a result I've grown up pretty well immersed in Western culture. It'd be fascinating to me to see how one of my ancestors lived, because I'm sure the differences in customs and lifestyle would be mind blowing.

What is your favorite genre and why?

Anything written from the heart? I'll read just about anything, and don't spend much time in any one genre. I'm just interested in a good story.
When did you start writing?

When I was old enough to grip a pencil. I'm one of those people who has always been and will always be a writer.
What is the purpose of your writing?

Satisfying the desire to write - which I know sounds like a cheeky answer, but I don't mean it that way. If I don't write, I feel like I'm starving. Any day that I don't write or work on a writing project, I feel like I've wasted. Romantic people would say I have a writer's soul. I actually think it's a type of obsessive disorder, but it's one that I enjoy, so it's all good.

Which of your work has been published so far?

I've sold several science fiction and fantasy short stories to professional markets. I'm a full member of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I've got my bibliography up on my Emily Mah website ( In romance, I'm mostly self published. I did sell my first book in that genre to a small press in 2008, but the other seven novels I've published since I've done myself. My novels are:

The Fairytale Series:

Someone Else's Fairytale (2011)
Nobody's Damsel (2013)
Break It Up (a spinoff 2013)
A Safe Space (a spinoff 2014)
The Hunt for the Big Bad Wolf (coming in November 2014)

The Shattered Castles Series:

Castles on the Sand (2012)
Love in Darkness (2013)


Time & Eternity (2008)
Paint Me True (2011)

Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?

Sure! Here's the one for my latest novel, A Safe Space:

Everyone needs a safe space.

For Lizzie Warner, that space has always been in front of the camera on her hit show, or on stage in a sold out concert arena. Since before she can remember, she’s been a star, but that may be about to change.

She’s nineteen. Her show has been cancelled and now she’s going to play the lead in a new prime time drama series. Is the world ready to take her seriously, or will she be typecast as the cute tween queen forever?

Her network has invested millions of dollars in an ad campaign for her show, money she’s not sure she can earn back. Her co-star can’t stand her, and the writing for the show turns out to be poor at best. The only reason Lizzie didn’t walk away from the job offer to begin with is because she’s broke, the victim of a decade of bad money management.

Then there’s Devon, the personal trainer at her gym. Arrogant and abrasive, he’s the last guy she should ever find attractive, but she has a hopeless crush on him anyway, and he doesn’t seem entirely disinterested either. In fact, sometimes he’s downright sweet to her. If only he weren’t an untamable bad boy who uses and dumps women like they’re nothing. 

Though Lizzie’s friends warn her to stay away, he’s the only person who can give her what she needs: a safe space. But is there any way she can break him of his years' long habit of being a user? 

What are your forthcoming writings?

My next work to be published is "A Missed Connection", which is a short story that will appear in S.M. Stirling's Change universe anthology. What's funny about this one is that S.M. Stirling (who is also a friend of mine) tuckerized me in one of his Change books. I'm the Premier of part of Canada. So to have a story by me set in his Change world is pretty funny. I gave myself a little walk-on role. People who know the series well will get the joke.

My next novel will be The Hunt for the Big Bad Wolf, the third book in my Fairytale series, which is about a woman who is a forensic scientist, married to a man who is a Hollywood A-list actor, so their careers are two extremes. It's set in Albuquerque, the biggest city here in New Mexico, and is a lot of fun to write, and I hope fun to read as well.
What are your future plans?

Right now I'm very happy in my writing career. I don't yet make a living, but I have a clear path marked ahead. Every new book I publish is a new tool to garner more readers, and so I'll keep writing and publishing them.

What four top most things you take care of while writing a book?

1. is a tie between Plot and Characterization. I really think you need a good strong bone structure for a book (the plot) and believable characters that people will care about. While I make use of a lot of classic plot structures and forms, I do like to challenge myself by switching it up, so plot usually takes up most of my energy. My characters I have to just keep writing about until they come to life for me. 

3. then (since 1&2 are a tie) is Setting. The place the book is set in needs to be real. Sometimes that means putting it in a setting I know very well, like the city of Albuquerque. Sometimes it takes a lot of research. For A Safe Space I leaned heavily on the advice of Melinda M. Snodgrass, who is a famous screenwriter. She's the one who set out for me how a television show is shot and produced. I'm sure I made a ton of mistakes, but what I got right is thanks to her.

4. would be Research. It's not fourth because it's unimportant, but rather because it pays to do it last. That might sound counterintuitive, but it is much easier to know what to research once you have the story roughed out. If I'm writing a crime drama, I could study crimes and crime scene investigation and police procedure for months. It's better to write the story first and then start researching to make each chapter accurate. This will change the story some, but it's easier to do that than it is to digest a ton of research first and then try to write the story to fit it all together.
How much real life goes into a fiction writing?

The heart of every good story is truth, in my opinion. Fiction doesn't misrepresent our world. It teaches us how to find happily ever afters - it's all about when you decide you've reached "the end" of whatever you're dealing with.
Is high level of imagination important to have for an Author?

Yes is the obvious answer, but I think there are a lot of types of imagination. People with very fanciful imaginations may struggle because the worlds they create are so detailed. Some of the most effective storytellers write very close to reality with only a few creative deviations. So, you don't have to be able to devise a whole new mental universe to write a compelling story.

Your dream destination on Earth?

Wherever my family is. That's the best place to be!
Your origin of birth and other countries you have visited/ stayed. What best things you liked in these countries around the globe?

I was born in Arcadia, California and grew up in New Mexico. When I was 17 I moved to the UK for school and spent 2 years in Wales and 3 in England. During that time I spent two summers in Washington DC for political internships (one in the Senate and one in the White House). Then I lived back in southern California for law school, and went up to Seattle, Washington afterwards for the Clarion West Workshop. After that I moved back to New Mexico, met my husband, and four years ago we moved to London so he could do his PhD. We lived there for three and a half years before ending up in New Mexico yet again.

My husband and I love to travel. We've been to Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Peru, and Spain. When I lived in the UK I traveled to Norway and Sweden, and France. As a child my parents also took me to Holland, Belgium, Italy, and we took a boat up the Rhine through Germany and into Switzerland.

Oh, and I went to Tanzania for a student conference when I was 19. I *think* that's all the countries I've been to. I'd love to go to Asia someday, and spend a lot more time in Africa.

The best thing about every country I've been to is the chance to see another side of humanity. I know I'm a better person for learning about other cultures and world views.

Your favorite time of the day?

Your zodiac/ sunsign?

In Western astrology, I'm a Scorpio. In Eastern astrology, I'm a Rabbit
Your favorite color and why?

Blue, because it reminds me of the sky in New Mexico, which is every shade of blue from powder at the horizon to cobalt directly overhead.
What is the last book you finished reading?

Beat the Devil by Mishka Shubaly
What is the current book you are reading?

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Picketty. 
Your favorite book and why?

Too many to name. When I was a kid I read and re-read King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry and Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. As a pre-teen I read Songmaster by Orson Scott Card and loved it so much I don't ever want to read it again. I want to always remember how it was that very first time.
Your favorite movie and why?

I have seen How to Train Your Dragon literally dozens of times, and I still love it. I'm always up for a Star Wars marathon (but not Episodes I and II. I saw them opening day, so no one can accuse me of not being a fan, but once was enough!) The Neverending Story is, to me, one of the best movie adaptations of a novel ever. So is Babe, even though it diverges from the book wildly. 

It's also easy to talk me into watching the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. Honestly, though? There are a lot of great movies in the world and more coming out every month.
Your favorite celebrity and why?

I've been a lifelong fan of Drew Barrymore. She and I are the same age, so I was that little when I first saw ET. It gave me nightmares for years. When I was a teenager, she'd been written off as former child actress who probably wouldn't survive to adulthood, and then I saw her get movie role after movie role and rebuild her career from scratch. Nowadays were both married and mothers of young children. There's no dismissing her story as Hollywood spin. She has really risen from the ashes, and I'm a huge fan of redemption stories.
Your favorite food?

Indian. I'd love to go to India some day.
Some quickies: Sun or Moon,
The Moon is what I see more often 
Laughter or Smile,
Nothing tops a child's laughter 
Morning or Evening,
I never see the Morning these days. 
Coffee or Tea,
Neither, I'm Mormon 
Mountain or Sea,
Mountains are where I live 
Long Drive or Short Drive,
New Mexico is the size of Germany and has only 2.1 million people. There are no Short Drives. 
Silence or Conversation,
Silence is what I crave in a houseful of kids 
Water or Fire,
Water. Fire keeps forcing us to evacuate as it eats up thousands of acres of forest here in the American West 
Air or Earth,
Air. My dad's a pilot. 
Mars or Jupiter,
Mars. It's easier to walk on. 
Tulip or Rose,
 Roses remind me of the UK, my second home.
Red or Blue,
Left or Right,
Left. I learned to ride horses and fly airplanes left-handed, just because. I write right-handed 
Glance or Stare
Glance. So they don't notice you Staring. 

State your signature line/ tagline/ best quote

"People need their dreams. There's a reason why society pays good money for them." One of my characters says this to her movie star husband, when he complains that his high salary just shows how superficial the world is. There's nothing superficial about the time and money we put into the popular arts.
The last line of your autobiography would be…
And then she died. 

I hope, at least. If not, something really freaky must've happened...

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