Interview with Tanya Huff

18 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at https://storybundle.com/scifi, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: Tanya Huff

When did you first know you wanted to be a science fiction writer and why? How long after than did you have your first fiction sale?

I was always a story teller.  Going through some of my father’s things, I found a letter my grandmother had sent him where she transcribed a long, complicated story I’d told her about a spider that lived in the garden. I was three. (I illustrated the story. I was never an illustrator.)

When I was ten, I sold two poems to the local paper and was astounded to discover that people would pay money for writing.

When I was thirteen, I discovered a friend was writing Zena Henderson pastiches. Up until then, although I read all the time, it hadn’t occurred to me that people wrote books. (Poetry and newspaper articles, yes. Books, no. Books were special.) I was people. Therefore, I could write books.

I wrote books (about 40K so essentially novellas) all through high school. Switched to scripts for a while after graduation, started Child of the Grove in university (In TV Tech because I honestly didn’t care.) while writing short stories in my spare time.

I wrote Science Fiction and Fantasy because that made up the higher percentage of what I read.

I sold my first two short stories in 1984 (maybe ‘83, it’s been a while) and Child of the Grove the year after.  It’s been pretty much a book a year since.

I still don’t do illustration.

What inspired you to write Valor’s Choice? How does this book fit into the rest of your writing career?

I come from a military family – both grandfathers, both parents, assorted cousins. I served in the Canadian Naval Reserve. At no point have we ever had a commissioned officer in the family.  Non-coms, yes, and this gives me a somewhat different view as to who actually gets the job done in most militaries.

Military science fiction, however, concentrates on officers.  So, Valor’s Choice was written for the rest of us.

As to how it fits into the rest of my writing career? I honestly have no idea. I suspect that’s something posterity will determine.

Who is your favorite secondary character in this book and why?

I’d have to say Haysole. Military characters have fairly well-defined parameters and he coloured outside the lines.

 What themes appear most strongly in your writing? What makes you particularly care about those ideas?

  1. Who do I chose to be. Blood and background only go so far, at some point you have to say this is who I am. I was the first person in my family to finish high-school and the only person to attend university. Fuck the world’s expectations. You decide.
  2. Competence. Because competence is sexy.

Do you have a special routine when you are writing? Time of day? Inspiring music or images? Particular clothing or food/drink?

I try to write every afternoon from one to six. In my office. Where it’s quiet. If I’m struggling, I indulge my oral fixation. Because I don’t want to weigh 400 lbs and fingernails have little food value, I eat a lot of carrot sticks. And drink a lot of black tea with milk. (Coffee’s for mornings, before I start writing.) (Unless we’re out of either tea or milk.)

Are you a plotter or a pantser or some combination of the two? Do prefer to writing or re-writing? Do you write every day or when the muse strikes you?

Yes.

Do need privacy to do your writing or do you prefer the social ambience of a coffee shop or writing retreat? How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?

Privacy. I’m not big on social ambiance while involved in social activities. The exception to this is trains. I love writing on trains. Don’t know why.

Because writing has been my full-time job since 1992, it’s the same old work/life balance everyone faces. Except that I’m doing research while listening to you complain about your relationships…

What aspects of writing do you find easiest (character, plot, setting) and which are your biggest struggle?

I find setting easiest because I find world building fun. Pick a geography, a climate, a tech level, build from there. Plot’s next easiest. Characters are complex and twisty and frequently illogical. They take your nice simple plot of a staff sergeant getting the job done and getting her people home alive and make it complex and twisty and frequently illogical.

But I struggle most with description. I personally don’t much care what people/things/places look like, I care what they do, what their relevance is to the story. However, as most people do care, I have to keep reminding myself to not only put it in, but make it interesting. I suspect this is partially because all my formal training was in script writing.

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding writer, what would it be?

Read. Read everything. Read for pleasure. Read for research. Read for inspiration. Read to learn your craft.

 

To learn more about this great bundle of books, visit https://storybundle.com/scifi.

To connect with Bundoran Press, visit our web-site, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @BundoranPress

To learn more about Tanya and her writing, visit: https://www.fantasticfiction.com/h/tanya-huff/

 

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Interview with Brent Nichols

17 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at https://storybundle.com/scifi, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: Brent Nichols

When did you first know you wanted to be a science fiction writer and why? How long after than did you have your first fiction sale?

I knew I wanted to be a writer pretty early in my life. Books had a huge influence on me. At first I wanted to be the heroes of those books. Eventually, though, I started to envy the writers. People I’d never met, in many cases people who died before I was even born, were having this tremendous influence on me. I wanted to wield that kind of power.

The best part of reading for me as a child was the way books would whisk me away to somewhere else. I got hooked on science fiction early, because of the fantastic environments and the mind-bending concepts. That made science fiction the playground I wanted to inhabit as a writer.

So my goal was selected by my early teens. My first sale came many, many, many years later, when I was in my forties. If you’d told fourteen-year-old me that he’d work for thirty years without making a sale he’d have called you a liar. That unshakable delusion was the only thing that kept me going through all the years of rejection and obscurity.

What themes appear most strongly in your writing? What makes you particularly care about those ideas?

I find I’m constantly exploring the question of identity, of how we become who we are and the degree to which we can choose. I’m almost fifty and I’m still grappling with that. The person I assumed I’d become when I was a child is not the person I grew up to be. I’ve been shaped by the events of my life, especially my childhood, often in ways I don’t like, and it’s maddeningly difficult to change myself from the inside.

My characters tend to be young, and they tend to struggle with identity. With choosing. With seeing beyond their environment and the “wisdom” of everyone around them to make good choices about who they become. They struggle, and sometimes they fail, to rise above their environment and become who they choose to be. I’m endlessly fascinated by that struggle.

Do need privacy to do your writing or do you prefer the social ambiance of a coffee shop or writing retreat? How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?

I’ve never been one for writing in a coffee shop. I do most of my writing at home. I’ve got an office set up with a view of the backyard and a couple of bird-feeders, which are often full of squabbling birds. It’s a pretty nice place to work. I don’t have children or pets, so I’m generally not interrupted when I’m home.

I do find that my productivity increases when I go on retreats, though. The social pressure of having writers all around me who are writing and who expect me to be writing leads me to work more and goof off less. The most productive days I’ve ever had been at retreats or when I’ve been stuck with absolutely nothing else to do. The absence of Wi-Fi can be a wonderful thing when you want to get work done.

Lately I’ve been dictating with Dragon Naturally Speaking, which I only want to do alone. I either dictate in my office, or I take a digital recorder and walk around outside. If I go outside and pick a destination, I’ll usually keep on dictating until I get there. It takes away my typical inclination to decide I’m frustrated or that I need a break.

As for balancing writing with the rest of my life, it helps that I don’t have children. Nor do I have a day job that is overly demanding. For a long time, I worked as a trainer with an irregular schedule that gave me a lot of days off. Now I’m able to make my living writing, so balancing writing with the rest of my life has become easy. The only challenge is self-discipline and resisting the urge to make excuses while I goof off.

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding writer, what would it be?

Be wary of advice. Especially be wary of writers who tell you there is one way to do things. If you read or watch a lot of interviews with writers you quickly realize that they work in very different ways, and succeed in very different ways. So, you can reject out of hand any advice that begins with, “You must always …”

Do what works for you, and never mind what works for someone else. That being said, be wary of indulging your anxieties and telling yourself that a routine that involves very little actual writing is “what works for me”. If you’re not writing, your approach doesn’t actually work for you.

Similarly, you must be discerning with the feedback you get when you share your writing. You will get good, insightful, useful feedback, telling you things you’d never figure out on your own. And you will get wrong-headed, destructive, terrible feedback that you must ignore. And no one can tell you which is which. Figuring out which voices to listen to and which voices to ignore may be one of your biggest challenges as a writer.

 

To learn more about this great bundle of books, visit https://storybundle.com/scifi.

To connect with Bundoran Press, visit our web-site, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @BundoranPress

To learn more about Brent and his writing, visit: http://www.steampunch.com/index.html

 

Interview with Alison Sinclair

16 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at https://storybundle.com/scifi, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: Alison Sinclair

What inspired you to write Breakpoint: Nereis? How does this book fit into the rest of your writing career?

Breakpoint was to be my medical ship story, with my elevator-speech including the phrase “Star Trek meets medicine”. I was exploring the overall idea of the medical ship picking up the pieces after a plague, but trying to get going on a novel centred on the Waiorans and their conflicts. Then Creon McIntyre arrived on stage, so decisively that I started drafting scenes from his point of view in a hotel room while on a business trip, which is something I can very rarely do. As my characters tend to do, he dragged in his family, friends and enemies, who then started to define the world they lived in. The germ of a different novel snapped into shape around him, and I rolled with it.

Who is your favorite secondary character in this book and why?

My favourite secondary character has to be the world of Nereis itself, and the funky biochemistry that is responsible for a number of the plot drivers: Nereian native biochemistry has amino acid variants replacing three essential Earth-type amino acids, which means that humans cannot survive without either modifying themselves or terraforming the landscape. In the aftermath of the Plague, with Nereis being thrown on its own devices, the terraforming is losing ground and the adaptations are failing, and two sides are struggling for control of the remaining habitable land. That’s where the Waiorans come in, with their dual mission of tracking their plague (which they think might have survived in bodies buried in Nereis’ unusual ecosystem), and helping the colony avoid extinction. Both sides promptly attempt to enlist the Waiorans to their cause.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or some combination of the two? Do prefer to writing or re-writing? Do you write every day or when the muse strikes you?

Combination, though I skew heavily towards pantser. There’s a cartoon that most scientists have encountered of two mathematicians standing at a blackboard, on which is written a series of formulae at top left and bottom right, with “and then a miracle occurs” written in the centre. Which pretty much describes my process of getting from an idea of the beginning to some vague notion of the end. Each of my projects has a paper notebook (or more than one), and a project can’t really get rolling until I find my preferred notebook (so I have a LOT of notebooks), which gets filled up with checklists of scenes to be written, possible names for people and place, multi-page scrawled plot-bashing sessions and Smeagol vs Deagol arguments with myself about who is doing what and when and why, messy timelines with many arrows and bubbles, coarse sketches of maps so I at least can keep the eight points of the compass straight, book lists, literature searches, and research notes. What my primordial entries describe usually bears little resemblance to the book that finally condenses in the end.

Given the messy process that is a first draft, rewriting is generally easier. It’s also essential, since I have usually taken a turn somewhere in the middle and have re-align the beginning with the end, so that the problem presented in the first act is solved by the final curtain (usually generating a host of new problems). I also wind up cutting quite a number of scenes that are pure character or world building but do not advance the plot. Stuff I needed to know but ultimately do not need to show.

The only time I could write every day is when the novel has hit its last third, the plot has developed its own inevitability, and it all starts rolling downhill. I don’t usually get to, because work and life.

Do need privacy to do your writing or do you prefer the social ambiance of a coffee shop or writing retreat? How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?

Privacy and quiet for writing itself. I’d like to be one of those who can use music to shut out other distractions and create a mood, but it imposes itself on the rhythm of my own narrative voice and that of the dialogue. I cannot write in coffee shops, though I can constructively plot-bash there. Much of the plot-bashing for Breakpoint was done on weekend mornings at the James Bay Coffee and Books in Victoria, BC. My all-time favourite place to work is the reading room of the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, followed by the silent working floors of a University Library, particularly in the summer. My version of Hemingway’s “write drunk, edit sober”, is to write late at night, when it’s quieter and punchiness can produce some quite interesting twists, about the time I start typing with my eyes closed. I can then work on coherence in the morning, when I am sharp.

 

To learn more about this great bundle of books, visit https://storybundle.com/scifi.

To connect with Bundoran Press, visit our web-site, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @BundoranPress

To learn more about Alison and her writing, visit: http://www.alisonsinclair.ca/

 

Interview with Jennifer Rahn

15 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at https://storybundle.com/scifi, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: Jennifer Rahn

Do you have a special routine when you are writing? Time of day? Inspiring music or images? Particular clothing or food/drink?

I usually end up writing early morning when insomnia hits at 2 am, or whenever I can fit in a few minutes during the day. It’s nice to have a mug of lemon tea and potato chips to go along with it, or candy. For music, I usually like to listen to something heavier, like July Talk, Nightwish or Beethoven.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or some combination of the two? Do prefer to writing or re-writing? Do you write every day or when the muse strikes you?

I was a pantser, but found that going back to fix things later is so much more work. Now I’m a plotter. It may not all come at once, and I may end up plotting and writing the first part of a novel before plotting the next, but I find that at least having a skeleton outline makes the entire process go so much more smoothly. I may write everyday for a few weeks at time, but I’m not that consistent about it. I like to ride the wave of motivation that hits now and then.

Do need privacy to do your writing or do you prefer the social ambiance of a coffee shop or writing retreat? How do you balance your writing with the rest of your life?

I have a day job and a four-year-old, so periodic insomnia aside, I don’t often have the luxury of privacy or going out to spend the afternoon in a coffee shop. I do, however, have dual monitors on my computer, so sometimes I’ll end up having my daughter sitting on my lap, watching Bob the Train on one screen, while I write on the other.

What aspects of writing do you find easiest (character, plot, setting) and which are your biggest struggle?

Characters come easily for me. Once I “see” them and catch hold of their personality, it all just flows. Setting is also easy. Plotting and logic are certainly where I need to make the most improvements. I get the support I need from an extremely logical engineer husband (Chris), and a very accomplished editor (Hayden).

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding writer, what would it be?

Learn from every experience and use what you learn to keep upping your game.

 

To learn more about this great bundle of books, visit https://storybundle.com/scifi.

To connect with Bundoran Press, visit our web-site, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @BundoranPress

To learn more about Jennifer and her writing, visit: http://www.longevitythesis.ca/

 

Interview with Matthew Hughes

14 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at https://storybundle.com/scifi, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: Matthew Hughes

What inspired you to write Template? How does this book fit into the rest of your writing career?

I had sold a novel, Black Brillion, to David Hartwell at Tor and wanted to follow up with something new. By then, Booklist had named me as “heir apparent to Jack Vance,” and although I knew I was influenced by Vance I had never really consciously tried to write a Vancean novel. I decided to give it a try, riffing on one of his “young naif travels the stars, encountering odd cultures and even odder people.” For good measure, I would explore a conceit I’d had rattling around in my head for some time: that all societies are fundamentally based on one of the seven deadly sins.

The result was Template. Unfortunately, Black Brillion didn’t do well enough for Tor to exercise its option to take my next book. So, I sold it to Pete Crowther at PS Publishing in the UK, who brought it out in a limited edition. Later, I resold it to Erik Mona at Paizo publishing, another big Vance fan. And when it was done there, I self-published as an ebook and POD paperback.

It remains the book I most often recommend to people who want to try me for the first time.

What themes appear most strongly in your writing? What makes you particularly care about those ideas?

My characters tend to be outliers, not comfortable in the middle of the social bell curve. Often they’re criminals of some sort (I come from a family that had quite a few minor criminals in it), or they’re oddballs who don’t fit their social environment. The stories tend to be about how they find a way to be happy (depending on your definition of happy) in a world not made for the likes of them. Template is a prime example of this theme.

I write about characters like that because I am a character like that. I’m an outlier and grew up largely alienated from the social and cultural environments I found myself in. Partly, that was because I was a bookish boy with an IQ of 145, but more important was that I came from a rootless, dysfunctional, working-poor family in which my father was always moving us around, sometimes with no warning. I learned I was emigrating to Canada from Liverpool when I was on the bus taking us to the ocean liner we were to be third-class passengers on. I once went to school at 9 o’clock on an Ontario morning and by 10:30 was in a car heading 2500 miles west to Vancouver, because my dad was in trouble with some loan sharks and we were bugging out.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or some combination of the two? Do prefer to writing or re-writing? Do you write every day or when the muse strikes you?

I’m a pantser. I start a book with a character in characteristic motion, then have something happens that begins a conflict. A third to halfway through, I begin to see what the story is about, in thematic terms, which tells me roughly how it has to end. Then I write toward that ending. I don’t do much rewriting. It’s as if the story is already known to the guy in the back of my head who feeds it to me, a thousand words at a time. My first drafts therefore come out at about 90 per cent of the finished product.

When I’m working on something, which is most of the time, I try to do a thousand words a day. I’ll sometimes do more or less if I’m finishing a scene. I don’t have a regular place to work because for the past eleven years I’ve been a homeless drifter, i.e., an itinerant housesitter, living in other people’s houses and looking after their property and pets. It’s a natural extension of how I lived when I was young, when my family’s peripatetic way of life led me to think of myself as “a guy who’s just passing through.” As I said above, I’m an outlier.

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding writer, what would it be?

I’ll give two.

Finish your first draft. Don’t keep rewriting the first three chapters trying to make them perfect. Writing a first draft is like hitting the beach on D-Day. You don’t stop to mourn the dead or help the wounded. You get off the beach, because if you don’t get off the beach, you’ll die there.

Also, story comes out of character. If you rewrite Rumpelstiltskin from the point of view of the eponymous character, it becomes a much different story, even though the plot remains the same. When I write, I become the characters I’m writing about. Which leads me to say to emerging writers: you think it’s your story because you’re writing it, but it’s really the characters’ story and you’re just writing it for them. So don’t try to make your characters do things they wouldn’t do. Give them some agency, as the creative writing profs say.

 

To learn more about this great bundle of books, visit https://storybundle.com/scifi.

To connect with Bundoran Press, visit our web-site, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @BundoranPress

To learn more about Matt and his writing, visit: https://www.matthewhughes.org/

 

Interview with Edward Willett

13 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at https://storybundle.com/scifi, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: Edward Willett

When did you first know you wanted to be a science fiction writer and why? How long after than did you have your first fiction sale?

I have two older brothers, both of whom read science fiction, so that was what was in the house when I reached book-reading age (which for me was pretty early: I taught myself to read in kindergarten after our teacher introduced us to phonics). The first science fiction novel I remember reading was Robert Silverberg’s young-adult book Revolt on Alpha C (his first published novel, written when he was nineteen), but it wasn’t long before I was devouring SF. Robert A. Heinlein was unquestionably my favorite, with Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Zenna Henderson, Arthur C. Clarke, and many others close behind. I read fantasy, too, and loved it as well.

The first complete short story I remember writing came about because a friend and I, when I was about eleven, needed something to do on a rainy day (this being pre-Internet), so we decided to write stories. I don’t know if he finished his, but I finished mine: “Kastra Glazz: Hypership Test Pilot.” (One thing my reading had apparently convinced me of was that science fiction characters had to have weird names.) My mother, who was a secretary, typed it for me, and then I showed it to my Grade 8 English teacher at the Weyburn (Saskatchewan) Junior High School, Tony Tunbridge. He did me the honor of taking it seriously, critiquing it, not just patting me on the head for having written it, but asking why my character did what he did, what the aliens wanted, etc.

I kept writing stories after that, and I tried to make each one better. They got longer and longer, so that by high school, I was writing novels—three of them, one each in Grades 10, 11, and 12: The Golden Sword, Ship from the Unknown, and Slavers of Thok. I shared them with my classmates and discovered I could tell stories people really enjoyed reading, and it was somewhere along in there I decided what I really wanted to be was a science fiction/fantasy writer.

However, I also knew you couldn’t make a living as a writer, at least not right off the bat, so I went into journalism, figuring at least I’d be writing. I wrote newspaper stories during the day and fiction at night and sold my first short story when I was 23 years old—but it wasn’t science fiction: it has a little historical adventure piece about two kids caught in a blizzard in Saskatchewan around 1905, published by Western People, the magazine supplement of The Western Producer, an agricultural newspaper. (Side note: years later, I sold a short story called “Strange Harvest” to Western People, probably the only science-fiction story it ever published.)

My first science fiction sale came not too long after that. “The Minstrel” was published by the now defunct Canadian children’s magazine JAM. It’s a story about a boy on a backward planet who has mysteriously inherited a strange musical instrument that is able to make its listeners feel the player’s emotions. It turns out the instrument is an ancient alien artifact an unscrupulous man will stop at nothing to possess…

The story has a scene where the boy stands outside the fence surrounding the spaceport, staring at the glittering ships standing within, fiercely longing to leave his world and journey to the stars. It’s a longing I knew and know well: the longing that has always driven me to write science fiction and continues to drive me to write science fiction—the desire to explore unknown worlds, and to take my readers along for the ride.

What themes appear most strongly in your writing? What makes you particularly care about those ideas?

As I look back over some twenty novels, one theme stands out above all others: the importance of the individual—of individual rights, and of individual responsibility.

An individual may belong to several different groups, but he or she is not defined by those groups. Each person is a world unto him or herself, full of contradictions and surprises. Each person is living out his or her own story, of which he or she is the protagonist. Each must make his or her own decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions.

My protagonists are individuals who find themselves thrust into strange circumstances. They struggle to understand what is happening, to do the right thing, to make things better, to save themselves and others. They often make terrible mistakes along the way, and they may even fail in the end—but they don’t give up.

That, ultimately, is the best any of us can do in our lives.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or some combination of the two? Do prefer to writing or re-writing? Do you write every day or when the muse strikes you?

 I’m a combination plotter/pantser. I write fairly detailed synopses—say, five or six single-spaced pages—but I also discover much of the story along the way. In my novel Terra Insegura (published by DAW Books, the sequel to the Aurora Award-winning Marseguro), I introduced a minor viewpoing character primarily because I needed someone in orbit while my other viewpoint characters were down on Earth. But that character soon became central to the plot, to the point where I had to stop about three-quarters of the way through and replot everything to the end, my synopsis no longer being applicable. In my recent novel The Cityborn (also DAW Books), I was about two-thirds of the way through the writing before I finally realized what the book was really about—the theme, not the plot. The actual writing, the interaction of the characters, and the details of the world I’d created, much of it on the fly, came together to reveal something I hadn’t fully grasped when I began drafting the novel.

As host of the podcast The Worldshapers (www.theworldshapers.com), in which I interview other science fiction and fantasy authors about their creative processes, I ask this same question, more or less. Every author’s approach is different, with some doing little outlining and some doing such a detailed outline literally nothing is left to chance during the actual writing. I think the former would be too chaotic and the latter too confining for me, so I’m definitely somewhere in the middle.

I enjoy writing the first draft of books, but I also enjoy rewriting. As per my answer above, I discover things about the story during the drafting that I can then go back and insert or strengthen during the rewriting. Seeing where the characters end up often means changing their dialogue or reactions in the earlier parts of the book. Settings may be modified for the same reason. Sometimes I’ll need to insert new scenes.

All of this is fun, because, basically, I just enjoy writing. I even enjoy copy-editing. In My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle sings, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words,” but I’m never sick of words. I love them.

And, yes, I do write every day (if you also count rewriting/editing), but I’m not necessarily writing fiction every day. As a full-time freelance writer, I write a lot of non-fiction as well, so what I’m writing from day to day depends on the current projects I’ve taken on and when their deadlines are.

I learned long ago not to depend on a muse: one thing being a newspaper reporter teaches you is that when you sit down at the keyboard, you have to produce, because the newspaper is going to come out no matter what, and you’d better have your story ready to go into it. It’s one reason I think print journalism isn’t a bad place for any wannabe writer to start: better, I honestly think, than a creative writing degree.

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding writer, what would it be?

First, read. You cannot write in this genre without reading in this genre (the same is true of any genre, of course). Read the classics, read the newest and hottest bestsellers, read the obscure and forgotten. Find what resonates with you and try to figure out why. Writing a story is a process of encountering and solving problems: establishing character, providing backstory, creating believable dialogue, crafting immersive settings, etc. Seeing how other writers have overcome (or failed to overcome) those problems will help you tackle them yourself.

At the same time, write, write, write. Writing skill is like any other skill—piano playing, figure skating, painting. Practice doesn’t make perfect (because no piece of writing is ever perfect, or at least, there is no piece of writing that is universally accepted to be perfect), but it does make better.

And finally, don’t give up. As many others have pointed out, quite often the biggest difference between those who failed at becoming a writer and those who succeeded is simply that those who succeeded never gave up, no matter how difficult the road.

I guess that’s actually three pieces of advice, but (to paraphrase Dr. McCoy), dammit, I’m a writer, not a mathematician.

 

To learn more about this great bundle of books, visit https://storybundle.com/scifi.

To connect with Bundoran Press, visit our web-site, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @BundoranPress

To learn more about Ed and his writing, visit: https://edwardwillett.com/

 

Interview with James Alan Gardner

12 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at https://storybundle.com/scifi, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: James Alan Gardner

What themes appear most strongly in your writing? What makes you particularly care about those ideas?

I’m a child of pop culture, steeped in comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and all those good geeky things. But I’ve always been distanced from that culture too; I love the genre in a “meta” way, rather than completely buying in. (I’m not cut out to be a capital-F Fan of the genre.)

So when I write, I’m always holding genre conventions up to the light. I try to see the underlying assumptions and exploit them. I seldom try to subvert conventions or defy them. Instead I ask myself, “What if the world truly worked like that? What if there’s a good reason for all those genre conventions, even if they seem ridiculous when you actually think about them? And how would intelligent people behave if they knew they were living in that kind of world?”

Beyond that, I try to show a broad range of humanity, rather than peopling my stories with the usual straight white men. It’s another way to take a second look at genre conventions without actually trying to disrupt them. “Okay, suppose you have a world where genre rules apply. How would different people live in that world? What new directions would they go in? What if you weren’t the male lead?”

Do you have a special routine when you are writing? Time of day? Inspiring music or images? Particular clothing or food/drink?

I write every morning, seven days a week. I try to get started by 10:00AM and go until at least 1:00PM. In the afternoon, I either do freelance editing for other people (hire me!) or I deal with different types of writing: blog writing, articles, short stories, or “punching up” whatever novel I’m working on.

I can’t think at all when there’s music playing, or when there are any other audio distractions. I drink two cups of coffee before I start my writing day, but for my actual writing time, I drink glasses of 1/3 orange juice, 2/3 Diet Coke, mixed together.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or some combination of the two? Do prefer to writing or re-writing?

I’m not a big plotter, but I need what I call a “keel” before I start writing. Just as a keel gives a boat balance and keeps it floating upright, a story-keel gives the essence of a book: why I’m writing it and what I want to hold onto, no matter what directions the plot and characters might go. In practice, a keel is just a few sentences of content I consider non-negotiable. Beyond that, I let myself improvise and follow serendipity.

That’s enough to get me through a very rough first draft. Then I start rewriting, which I enjoy a great deal. Rewriting is where the story really comes together; I know more or less what the story is about, so I can tune it and refine it to deliver its heart and soul.

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding writer, what would it be?

Read a lot, write a lot, and still have a life.

Bonus advice: I have strong reservations about “Write what you know”, but even so, work hard to know a lot of cool things. You need both breadth and depth. When a writer’s knowledge is narrow and shallow, it shows.

 

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To learn more about Jim and his writing, visit: https://jamesalangardner.wordpress.com/