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Victoria introduces herself as a full-time author, mom, wife, and more. She lives in the far western suburbs of Chicago in the United States and has a 5-year-old boy/girl twins, a teenage stepson, a cat, and a dog. “I’ve spent my career as a professional editor and writer as well as several years as a teacher (English, English and a second language, and French) at the middle and high school levels. I’ve also directed several theatre productions, and I participate actively as an Alpha facilitator at my church. (I was an atheist/agnostic for the better part of 30 years, but now I follow Christ largely because of that amazing course)”, she tells us.

In this interview, part of a new series where Zaftyg will share with you the real stories and the people behind the words of talented artists, Victoria talks about her career, her characters and the power of language.

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What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a new romance trilogy set in Mexico. It follows the lives and loves of five women at very different points in their lives as they become interconnected through the renovation of a rundown hotel in Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos. I’m also working on several new children’s books and a series of short romance stories that will be published in anthologies over the next two years. I’m also a freelance editor, so I’m always working on fiction and nonfiction projects that come my way.

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What’s your career’s highlight up to now?

I’ve had a lot of highlights, but I’d say the two best are one from each genre. First, the completion of my first romance trilogy was such a coup. These stories and characters had lived with me for so long, and it was gratifying and a relief to finally bring their stories to a very satisfying and cathartic close. For years, I sat with a “triple cover” picture frame that had a blank space where Book 3 would go. It now is complete, and that’s incredibly satisfying. For children’s books, the highlight is really my brand-new book Tears for a Butterfly that will come out this spring. I was able to collaborate with a newly rediscovered friend from high school. The beauty of melding her gorgeous art with my words is an experience I will always treasure.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Hmmm, it’s rare that I’m not writing, but I enjoy traveling when I’m able. I miss those opportunities very much these days. I also like to read a lot and interact with family, friends, and other creatives.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I realized that when I was nine years old. It was all because of a “write a book” assignment in my reading class. I excelled at that project (an Oz fan fiction that I still have), and it’s been my love and passion ever since.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?

Technically nine, I guess, but I started writing my first novel when I was 15. It grew up and developed with me over the years, at some points taking on a life of its own, and then I finally made myself let go of it and publish when I was 31. The rest is history.

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Where do you get your ideas?

It depends on what I’m writing. My novels (and other short story romances) mostly get inspired from aspects of my own life, experiences I’ve had, or perhaps the “what ifs” of a different path I might have chosen. For children’s books, so far I’ve looked to the animal kingdom for quirky behaviors that I can then turn into something meaningful, and my children have inspired several of my upcoming stories as well.


What is your writing process like?

It truly depends on what I’m writing. Children’s books I write from start to finish because they are short, and I like to see the progression and follow a particular rhyme scheme. With novels and short stories, I rarely seem to start at the beginning. It’s probably incredibly inefficient, but I start with something intensely emotional somewhere in the middle, which begins to create the heart of the story and its emotional arc. I then go back and lightly plot and sketch out points or scenes I want to hit. Sometimes I move things around and generally fill in the beginning and points throughout, but until I figure out the end, I can’t quite write for real. Once that’s figured out, everything seems to grow and flow together somehow. Like I said, terribly inefficient, but it’s what I do.

Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?

Some people think I do write under a pseudonym because I work under two different names; however, both are really and truly me. I first published in the romance/women’s fiction genre under Victoria J. Hyla (my birth name/maiden name), so I continue to publish romance and adult novels under that name for continuity, but when I branched out into editing projects and children’s books, I decided to use Victoria Hyla Maldonado, my legal married name. It’s a clear distinction, but I’m proud of everything I publish, so I’d never want to hide that.

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What do you think makes a good story?

A good story moves you, and that can be emotionally or intellectually depending on the purpose of the writing. As a writer, the most important thing is for me to be moved or impacted by what I write. If I feel the feels, then readers will as well in a really authentic and organic way. If I pull punches and hold back on honesty and emotion, the readers will feel that, too. It’s kind of like teaching high school. Kids always know if you’re being real with them or not.

What difference do you see between a writer and an author?

I’ve been both, so it’s a pretty clear distinction. Writers can write anything, and it’s kind of the big umbrella. I’ve written blogs and articles for magazines and newspapers. I’ve written product copy for catalogs and websites. I’ve written new hire guides and editing manuals. Writers write. Authors specifically are writers that can formulate all of those words and sentences and stories into books that people can take as a whole and enjoy. I do consider them very separate skills though.

What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused?

I don’t really have any tangible things that I need other than a working computer. Mostly, I just need time and silence. Both are often hard to come by.


Does writing energize or exhaust you?

It’s quite a bit of both actually. I feel amazingly accomplished and energized when I finish something and can point to the accomplishment of it, but the process itself can be incredibly draining. Many a time, I’ve come out of a writing session and my husband has told me I look thrashed. (He means well.) Usually the characters have just come of some intense trauma or emotional scene when that happens. I enjoy going into the lives and personalities of the characters, so I take on what they are going through because if I don’t feel it, why should my readers?

Do you play music while you write—and, if so, what’s your favorite?

Not in general. The mood of the piece I’m writing pretty much creates its own soundtrack in my head. It’s almost like there’s a movie playing in my brain, and it’s just my job to solidify the scenes and make it come to be. Music tends to interfere with that and can become a distraction. My ideal environment is silence or maybe just the sounds of nature.

What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book?

Schedule… that’s funny. Unfortunately, I have to write when I can and when the inspiration strikes. I work really well under pressured deadlines though so if I have a particular timeline and goal in mind, I will self-impose imaginary boundaries to get myself moving and producing. Of course, the busier I am, the more productive I become. It’s not ideal, but it gets it done.


What is your kryptonite as a writer?

Marketing and selling is my kryptonite. Writing is easy; kind of like walking or breathing. Even writer’s block can become an enjoyable experience when framed in the right way. Editing isn’t even challenging because I enjoy that process, and it comes easily to me. It’s definitely know how to market effectively.

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

Finding the initial inspiration is probably the most difficult, especially when it comes to short stories. For the longer novels, the ideas grow over time and develop and take on a life of their own in a really cool way. Short stories are harder because it’s just a snapshot in time and a lot is left untold. Once I have that initial spark and conflict and framework though, it comes pretty easily.

What comes first for you—the plot or the characters—and why?

For me it’s been a bit of both, so I can’t say for certain that it’s one or the other. I’m not much on constraining myself to one way of writing. For In Death We Part, it was most definitely the character of Matt Brennan first, and the plot and other characters followed. For Running in the Mists, the main characters were well-established, so the plot developed from what they’d already been through; however, some new, very important characters came out of that plot as it developed. Awake in Elysian Fields was a little bit of both. I’d teased elements of the plot in my mind for years, but I’d also had some characters lingering with me during that time. I guess that one happened organically together. My new trilogy is also a mixture. The core of the plot with the hotel came first, I suppose, but since one of the main characters is very close to myself, perhaps that came first. It’s kind of a chicken or the egg situation.

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How do you develop your plot and characters?

There are elements that I take control of intentionally, but a lot of times, I just let it flow and see what happens and where the characters take me. Later on, I fine-tune and mold them into something satisfying and magical. Honestly, it’s like there’s a movie playing in my head that I have some control over, and it’s my job to just get it down on paper in a solid way that conveys what I’m seeing to others. Some characters end up driving the plot while other characters are driven by it. It’s fun for me to watch it all come together in my mind and on the page. I do quite a bit of research for certain concepts, and that helps with plot and character development sometimes. For example, in Awake in Elysian Fields, the historical backgrounds and stories of a few Catholic saints came into play, and while I researched the ones important to certain characters, it fleshed out the personalities and back stories of those characters (luckily in this case, the research fell beautifully in line with where their characters were going anyway). It’s a mix of things, but overall, it’s pretty organic and hard to quantify.

How do you select the names of your characters?

For the most part, I thoroughly research important ones to make sure they are meaningful, but in a subtle way. For example, Brianna means “strong,” Ben means “good,” and Elyse is related to the Elyisan Fields (Champs-Élysées) that is so important to her history. I’ve also sometimes paid homage to people I know by writing and naming minor characters that reflect aspects of their personality (e.g., Sidney, Vanessa, Tank, Sergey). I’ve also had several character names just pop into my head and stick for some unknown reason (e.g., Geneviève, Jérôme). With those, I retroactively researched them to see what connections I could pull out, and so far I’ve hit the jackpot as far as meaning and connections for what the story needs. It’s truly fascinating however it happens.

Are there therapeutic benefits to modeling a character after someone you know?

I think there are therapeutic benefits. I know I’ve certainly done it and reaped them. Sometimes it’s as simple as honoring someone or wanting to write about them in a certain way because they were important to you (e.g., Sidney, Geoffrey, Tank, Sergey, Teresa, even Chester the dog), and in a way that keeps them with you in that moment in time. Some run a bit deeper and help you work things out (e.g., Ed, Ben, Elyse, Miranda, Jose). All characters and plots really are extensions of the author in some way. Perhaps they’re born out of trauma or celebration or particular emotions or moods or thoughts. It’s hard to say for sure in all cases, but writing them always has an effect. For me, it’s been a helpful experience.

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How did you come up with the title for your first book?

Originally, when it was a 50-page short, that story was called “A Summer of Promise.” Knowing how the story developed and what it became, that feels so very innocent and lame now. I’m not sure when the final title came to be exactly, but it was considerably later in the writing process. For In Death We Part, death is obviously a factor since the main character faces many different kinds of death, and through the title, I also want the reader to think about the well-known marriage phrase “til death do us part” because that significantly comes into play as well in a few different ways. In fact, all of my titles have multiple meanings on several different levels that interweave with the plot and characters meaningfully, and that’s quite intentional. Until I settle on a title that works and resonantes like that, I don’t feel comfortable with it.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

I’d say it’s gouging authors for money in so many ways at every turn. Authors aren’t rich and in general aren’t going to be rich. We rarely turn a significant profit on our work unless we happen to get picked up by some mammoth publishing company, and half the books published through those are no better and sometimes worse than something I can write. It’s about being in the right place at the right time, I guess. Companies and entrepreneurs that prey upon the eagerness and idealism of writers are disheartening, and when you’re starting out, it’s hard to discern the value in a particular service. Sometimes those “opportunities” pay off; sometimes they don’t. I think we should all be promoting each other for the love of the word and the beauty of the stories that are produced, and I’ve found several outlets that belive in just that. I’ll go back to those ones every time.

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What are common traps for aspiring writers?

It’s sad when writers get caught in the drive to write a particular story or book just because they think it will sell or pay off and make money. That’s being inauthentic. Aspiring writers need to dig deeply and really figure out what they were meant to write. It should not be a copycat version of some other style; it should be their own authentic style and story. Each one of us has story. Each one of us has a voice. Writers need to find that story and voice and bring it to the world. That’s writing, and that’s what the world needs.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I’m friends with a few authors, but oddly none in my local circle. One of my closest author friends is Irina Dumitru who lives in Romania. We connected somewhat randomly online, but our friendship and partnership has blossomed into something awesome. Irina is the one who encouraged me to try writing children’s books. I’d never even considered it until she put the idea in my head. She’s an author of sci-fi and thrillers as well as children’s books, and I’ve edited English translations of several of her books. She is translating my books into Romanian as well, and I’ve forever thankful for her encouragement to write children’s books. Now, I’m obsessed with it and have plans for many more.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

The earliest memories I have with the power of language and words were conversations with my grandfather. We called him Dziadz. His constant and joyful wordplay, from little inane or sometimes irreverent ditties to clever twists of phrases, might have seemed insignificant at the time, but they impacted me greatly. I was constantly fascinated and wrapped up in listening to, and speaking with, him. I’m certain that’s where my love of language began. Some of my favorites are when he’d jokingly say, “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice!” or “O Hell… I mean, hello.” Seems strange perhaps, but that’s when I learned how fun it was to play with language.

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If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I would tell myself to just keep writing and be confident that the stories that come into your head and out of your pen are your stories, and that makes them authentic and worthwhile. For years, I wasn’t sure my writing was good enough or that people would really like it. I couldn’t have been more wrong, I’ve since discovered, and I wish I’d realized that sooner.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Everything in your head is technically unpublished, so I guess I have quite a few. Half-finished would be Book 1 of my new romance trilogy. I have several major scenes written and several more sketched out and planned. I just need to focus and make the time. I guess my Monstery Donstery Dock children’s book would be considered half-finished because it’s now being illustrated. At this point, I just kind of go for it when I focus on something, so I don’t really have much in the cobwebbed coffers waiting around except a few short stories that just need to find the right outlet.

If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?

I’d say to them, “I love you.” It’s as simple as that. Many of my characters have gone through so much trauma and self-doubt and trials and yet have come out changed and better for it that I’d just love to hug them and tell them I love them and thank them for letting me be the architect of their stories. I often feel like they are real people; many are derived from aspects of myself, but I just love them.

How do you want to help moving humanity forward?

I’d love to continue to show people that bowing down to the “almighty dollar” is not the answer. Truth, beauty, love, authenticity, experience, generosity, faith, goodness… those are the keys to getting at and celebrating the best of humanity. We have so much potential as a species and yet greed and selfishness are seductive and so normalized that it’s ripping us apart. We aren’t perfect and we don’t have it all together, but the cool thing is that we don’t need to be or pretend to be. That’s okay. There’s beauty in the messy stuff and the mistakes and imperfections. We just need to embrace it and move positively forward.

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