Student wins illustration prize

By Senah Yeboah-Sampong

During her sophomore year in high school, Rhiannon Taylor began her career as a visual artist and experimented with writing. Her talent was recognized in March when she placed first in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest for her painting. The contest was founded by Hubbard, a bestselling science fiction author and founder of the Church of Scientology, for aspiring professionals to build connections and get published.

Taylor, a sophomore fiction writing major, is an active member of Columbinomicon, a science fiction and fantasy writing group at Columbia, and is currently revising her novel “Amazing Grace,” an urban fantasy about crime, romance and supernatural monsters duking it out in Chicago. She hopes to finish her final draft by Nov. 15. The Chronicle sat down with Rhiannon to discuss how she moves between her dual media of writing and illustrating while trying to keep her eye on the business end of the industry.

The Chronicle: What led you to apply for the Hubbard contest?

Rhiannon Taylor: This contest was the first time I won [a prize], and it was a fluke. My mother made me apply for scholarships, so I came across the L. Ron Hubbard one. For some reason it was classified as a scholarship, [and] I filled it out on a whim. I didn’t actually expect to win anything. I did it twice. I won the second time, and I was just like, “What do you mean I won? Are you sure you didn’t call the wrong house?”

Why do you want to write science fiction and fantasy?

There’s more wiggle room in genre fiction than literary [fiction] because you can take multiple genres and splice them. If you want gigantic, dragon lizard-things with steampunk weaponry fighting it out with octopus space aliens, you can do it.

Have you ever felt you have anything to prove to your contemporaries as such a young writer?

Being a young writer, not so much. But Columbia works a lot with literary fiction writing. I feel like, as a pulp genre writer, I have to prove something to my literary counterparts in class because it’s often not considered on the same level. And message-wise it probably isn’t. But it’s what I like.

Do you have to do anything to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?

Yes, often with the novels because that’s a year’s worth of work, or on the really big paintings that take 40 hours. It’s really easy for me to say, “I’ve had enough of this.” Usually, for both kinds, when I feel like that, I walk away. If I’ve been doing visual art and my back is cramping from this Wacom tablet in my lap, I go draw with pencil in the margins of paper. Also, if it’s a project, music is a huge part of my creative process. Starting the movie in my head comes from listening to music.

How do you approach editing? Is it easy to let go of certain things in the revision process?

After I’ve immediately finished something, no. I cannot accept critiques immediately after I’ve finished something. But if I let it sit for [a week] or a year, then I am fully open to critique. For my writing, I am a vicious editor of myself. I usually cut a fifth to a third of whatever I’m writing.

How did you move into digital art?

[When I was younger] everything was pencil and pen. I couldn’t understand how pictures on the Internet got such flat color with a marker. I then found Photoshop Elements, which I’d gotten from a Wacom tablet a few years before, [and] I realized that was what Wacom tablets were for.

Did you always feel it was important to know the writing industry when you first began?

Writing is a business. If you want to sell it, you have to treat it like a business. So I learned everything I possibly could. A lot of the information came from taking classes here. I go to a lot of conventions and panels where editors talk about why they reject things or how the process works.

Is there anything else you think our readers should know about the business?

The number one way you are not going to succeed is by not trying to succeed, not putting yourself out there. You have to press the submit button even if you think nothing is going to [come] of it, because it just might.