April 12th, 2009

drive train _ netcurmudgeon

funny how the whole world--historically--feels the urge to chase the sun to rest

Well, breakfast is in the oven, the dog is brushed, and the BRE and her boyfriend have a festive dinner in prep and under control (apparently today is some sort of major world holiday or something), including a strawberry cream cake that we had to exercise extreme discipline not to devour last night, immediately after frosting. OMG. (My contribution was slicing strawberries and cutting apart the cake layers.)

Which means it's time to answer some questions.

1) We've talked a little bit about your sense of a story's structure, or shape, and from what I could tell, your internal sense of the shape of story it is almost three dimensional. My internal symbols for structure are bent in totally different directions, and I'd really be interested in a bit more of an explanation of how you look at structure -- or broken structure -- while you're writing.

Generally speaking, I do feel it, and it is three dimensional. Stories, to me, not only have dimension and shape, they also have inertia and spin. Yeah, I know, but I didn't build this brain: I just live in it.

So I don't, so much, look at stories. I feel them: I feel their balance and their shape, and the stuff it will take to complete that shape. If they're off-balance, I can feel them wobble (that's the spin part), and if they're incomplete, they itch at me until I fix them.

This is one reason why certain kinds of revision are really hard for me, because oftentimes adding stuff makes the balance feel off, or feels like extraneous crap sticking out of the shape of the story. In general, I'm an additive writer rather than a subtractive one--I write short, and then have to go back and fill in the holes and expand stuff and let white space in. (And people still say my books are too dense.)

2) With short stories -- since all the moving parts are (usually) much smaller than a novel, and thus more prone to fluctuations in the ether or vibrations of the spheres -- is it preferable to compose using a typeface that evokes the right mood?

This seems like a harmless and easily concealed crutch. But then, so does the glass of whiskey until it becomes a fifth, or the bleeding of sacred animals, or laying rocks on the Nazca plains...

I compose pretty much everything in Courier. Not because I love it (it's ugly, yo) but because it's a fixed-width font with a lot of white space, and it makes it easier for me to spot errors. Also, I don't have to reformat before I send stuff out, and I know exactly how long the story is.

But I also compose longhand, in notebooks or just on scraps of paper, and sometimes if I am stuck I work in Times or Garamond or Book Antiqua, just because any change can help kick one's brain out of a rut.

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4) When you were a wee neo-writer, how did you budget your time? Balancing writing with a full time job and, you know, life, how long per day would spend writing? Did you have a word goal, or an hour allotment?
Whatever time I had, and not every day. I had been writing since first grade (no, really), but I didn't actually start to make quick, major progress as an artist until I was unemployed and unhappily married in 2001, and I basically buried myself in writing to kill the pain and fill the days. I was probably clinically hypergraphic for about three years, and at the end of that time (and probably two million words of writing) I had sold three novels.

I think my answer would be, spend as much time as you can budget. Because fiction writing is an art, and like any art getting good at it takes thousands of hours of practice.

5) You've mentioned, you're an artist who hates your own work (which I totally identify with) so how did you get past that to have the courage to publish? Or do you only hate your work when your revising it?

Sometime in the first flush of writing I like it, or parts of it. Sometimes years later I can go back and look at something I've written and not hate it. Essentially, I judge myself very harshly. A good friend once told me that I would never tolerate somebody talking about my friends the way I talk about myself, and I've been trying to internalize that and be gentler with myself.

It's all part of the legacy of abuse and neglect thing: self-loathing is yet another toxic behavior instilled by a crappy childhood. So no, it's not healthy and it's not helpful, but knowing that doesn't make it go away.

I dunno if I ever got past it. I did get a big kick in the teeth with 9/11, which for various reasons made me realize that if I didn't do what I wanted to do with my life now, today, I was never going to do it. Also, it's useful to me to remember that my writing is useful and comforting and cathartic to other people, which makes me feel like I'm justifying my carbon footprint a little.

6) Since you mention a story writing itself in your head, I'm curious - how much (and/or which part(s)) of a typical story gets written in your head before you put anything 'on paper,' and how do you decide when a given story is ready to be written?

Damned if I know. I maintain a file for each WIP and I write down bits as I get them, and eventually the story starts pushing to get out and I know it's time. And then sometimes when it's halfway done it decides "No, not now after all!" and goes back into hibernation. Sometimes I get the whole thing in a flash of inspiration (I wrote "The Chains That You Refuse" in about half an hour, and "This Tragic Glass" over two whirlwind days) and sometimes the damned thing sits there for years. I have a story right now where I wrote down the title in 1989, and the first sentence in 2004 or so, and that's all I have of it still. (Title: "On Safari in R'lyeh and Carcosa with Gun and Camera". First line: "We wouldn't be having this problem if you'd flunked algebra.")

I figure I'll write it someday.

I can try to hothouse stories--and on deadline, sometimes you have to--by packing related research into my head or talking stuff over with friends (or going for long walks or drives), and sometimes I just have to force the damned things out one horrible word at a time, with concommittant bitching. The entirety of Chill got written that way: words dragged out over thorns and coals.

The sad part of writing for a living is that I can't always wait for the muse to help out with a finished story. Sometimes I have to get down in there with the pick and shovel and dig the bastard out.

7) Hey, what conventions are you going to this year?

Well, I'm trying very hard to make it to Penguicon, but the money I was counting on has not yet arrived, so I may be staying home. Since I'm pretty broke currently, and teaching two workshops (Clarion West and Viable Paradise) that's my only planned convention this year, though I would like to make it to Worldcon, what with the award nomination and all.

However, comma, it might be a better idea to stay home, since so far my record for winning awards I have shown up for is zero. I have a much better percentage when I'm not in attendance.

8) What advice would you give to an aspiring sf/f writer regarding finding agents and cover letters/synopses?

Since my agent says my synopses are embarrassingly bad, I would say, "don't write them like I do." Exact quote: "You're lucky I looked at your five pages before I read the synop."


9) Have you ever totally splatted off the wall when climbing?

I've fallen poorly while bouldering a couple of times, and twisted my unstable ankle really badly once. And I've fallen badly on rope and banged the wall. But generally, there are safety measures in place to prevent one from injuring one's self. *g*

10) What's your favorite book-length poem or poem cycle?


11) Who's the best new (or new-to-you) musician or music group you've discovered recently?

Andrew Bird is still the leading contender. Crooked Still might be giving him a run for his money, but I've discovered I don't love them live, whereas Mr. Bird live blows my socks off.

I blame Chaz Villette for my acquaintance with both of these acts.

12) I am aware that some writers do well by publishing their short work first and then going on to work on novels.

What do you consider the benefits and drawbacks of each? And do you recommend focusing on one over the other?

I recommend concentrating on whatever you are good at, or want to become good at, and love. They're two different skills--as different as writing poetry and writing short stories.

And some people are good short story writers, and some are good novelists, and some are both. There are writers who have no interest in novels, which is fine.

I think it's harder to sell a good short story to a top tier market, because competition is much more intense. There are more short stories in circulation, and fewer professional markets. I also think it's harder to get attention to a short story, unless you do sell it to a market whose readers regularly vote for major genre awards (which at this point is, well, F&SF and Asimov's, and sometimes Analog).

Speculative short fiction is really a club scene, at this point. It's writers writing to writers and hardcore fans, and it's a very, very small community. On the other hand, short fiction can be less commercial, less accessible, and still sell and get noticed.

If you actually want to get paid a living wage to write, you're going to have to write novels.

I think short fiction publishing credits can help get a novel looked at--if nothing else, they tell the agent or editor that you can write a plain English sentence--but they won't help you sell a novel, unless you have "Hugo Award Winning" appended to the end of several of them.

Write what you want to write. Don't futz around doing stuff you don't care about because somebody told you it's how you're supposed to break in. The world is full of novelists who never finished a decent short story.

(Go here to ask your question)
lion in winter dead

jazz police are paid by j. paul getty

Is it spring yet?

How about now?

Oh, all right. While we're waiting, here's some more questions. (Go here to ask your question.)

13) I've followed your LJ for about three years now, and am always interested to see how your writing process has changed/developed. Could you say a little about where you're at right now with the whole process thing, and how you feel it's developed since you published the first Jenny book?

I'm not really sure I have a process, as some writers describe it. I don't have a ritualized path I follow in order to to work my way through a manuscript, in other words.

What I have got is a toolbox, a set of tactics and strategies for telling stories that may work in any given situation (and sometimes don't work in others). Generally, I think the best tool for any job is the simplest and least flashy one. The one that doesn't draw attention to itself.

On the other hand, sometimes the only tool that will work is a laser-guided diamond-bladed dado cutter. Which is big and flashy and expensive and you have to know how to use it, but when you really need to cut that dado, the hand plane just isn't gonna get 'er done. I can pull off stuff now I never could have when I was writing Jenny's books. (The self-contradictory flashback/dream sequence/prophecy that takes place in Rheims, in Ink & Steel, for example: I could not have written that scene in 2001. I didn't have the skillz. It's total stunt writing--but it's also the only way I could make that scene do what I needed it to do.)

14.) Will you teach me the secret handshake? 

I never got issued one.

15) What's your take on writing groups? I know you have a group of authors that you chat with/work with, but what do you think about aspiring writers going out and finding writing groups? Is it wankery, or is it useful?

Depends on the writing group. A peer group and support network is essential, and I have certainly learned more about writing, over the years, from critting than from just about any other activity. (From critting, please note. Not from being critted.)

A good writing group is worth its weight in gold. A bad one is killer. How do you tell which is which? Well, there are a bunch of articles around on how to do just that.

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17)  How long does it take to write a book?

Depends on the book. I wrote By the Mountain Bound in three weeks. Blood & Iron took more than fifteen years. Hammered took eight years. Somwhere between there. Other writers vary. *g*

In some other, excellent news, casacorona has informed me that I successfully fixed the b#@k, or maybe she's going to send it out to a book doctor while my back is turned. I think I would be be okay with that.