Writing Process Blog Tour

My dear friend Michael Merriam asked me to take part in a Writing Process Blog Tour. He answered these questions about process last week, and next week some more of my friends will answer them.

1) What am I working on?

When I told Michael about a week, week and a half, ago that I’d answer these questions, I thought, boy, that’ll be an interesting one, I can’t wait to read the answer and find out! At the moment, I’m worldbuilding and plot-building like crazy on several novel projects, waiting to see which one shakes out to be the next novel I write. Probably the strongest contender at the moment is Wielding the Stars, which has a giant jeweled magical orrery and riots and rebellion and fire and flood and…actually not flood I think. Hmm. We may have to go back to the flood later. (This is not to be confused with going back to the Flood later.) It also has load-bearing mythic bears, which are sort of getting to be a thing for me. But I could do any of a number of other things. That number might be five. Unless it’s not. Really, it’s quite a lot of possible projects, and the thing is, the one that jumps out and grabs me might not even exist yet. Novels are like that.

The thing I’m actually working on in any focused way is a short story called “Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns,” which has some vets with PTSD who have been given little genetically engineered soothing psychoactive companion frogs. It also has quite a lot of rain and jurisdictional disputes. It is science fiction unless it is fantasy. This is a problem because my filing system for unsold stories calls for them to be put in folders labeled “SF” or “Fantasy,” so I do, but the postnuclear fantasy series I just guess. I could be wrong. I’m just the author, you don’t have to listen to me.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Mine has a giant jeweled magical orrery. And genetically engineered psychoactive soothing companion frogs. Like that. Stuff.

Also I have more grandparents in my work than most people. I have more old people in general.

When asked to talk about theme or political concerns, I tend to curl up in a ball and emit disgruntled noises, so let’s focus on the frogs, shall we?

3) Why do I write what I do?

Because if I sing it instead, my voice gets tired, and I get squeamish about things under my fingernails, so sculpture is right out.

Because I have trained my brain to poke at things, and then I feed it all kinds of input, and this is what comes out. I was kidding above with the singing, except not entirely kidding, because what happens when I have bits of story that I don’t get to write down is that I sort of hum them under my breath, I sort of live with them and hum them, and they nag at me, and so I write them down. There is a thing about habit-formation and that is that once you have formed the habit, that is the habit you get.

Also this is the stuff I like. I don’t get to write all the stuff I like, because I like quite a lot of stuff, as you will notice if you read my book posts. But honestly I like this kind of stuff quite a bit. It makes me happy. I think it is good for me to think around corners about things, and I think it is good for other people too, but I don’t write medicine, I write things I like.

4) How does your writing process work?

As far as other people are concerned, the interesting part of this answer seems to be “non-sequentially.” I get bits and pieces of scene and start writing down the bits I know. I accrete more and more bits I know until there is enough to make a whole story of whatever length. I work from the “incredible disappearing outline” theory, deleting the bits of notes as I write the actual scenes that correspond to them. This is the same for long and short and very very short.

Oh, and there’s the bit in the middle of long things where I get lost and have to spread it all out and think about it a great deal and realize I forgot to plan something crucial when I was doing all the planning, so then I have to figure that out. It would be nice if this was not actually part of the process every time, but sometimes a bit of realism is called for in describing one’s process.

Tune in next week to hear from the following interesting people on their own blogs:

Alec Austin is a game designer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s worked as a nuclear reactor operator and media researcher, and has published a D&D adventure and articles in addition to over a dozen pieces of short fiction. His most recent publication, written with Marissa Lingen, is “The Young Necromancer’s Guide to Re-Capitation” in On Spec, by which you can discern that his work is uplifting and full of good cheer. He’s currently working on a science fiction novel. He can be found at alecaustin.livejournal.com.

Mary Alexandra Agner writes of dead women, telescopes, and secrets. Her latest book of poetry is The Scientific Method; her stories appear in Oomph and the Journal of Unlikely Cryptography. She makes her home halfway up Spring Hill. She can be found online at http://www.pantoum.org.

Merrie Haskell says of herself: “I write for all ages. My first book, THE PRINCESS CURSE, was a Junior Library Guild Selection in 2011, and was nominated for a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 2013. My second MG novel, HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS, won the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle Grades) in 2014. THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS, also a Junior Library Guild Selection, comes out in June 2014. My short fiction for adults has appeared in NATURE, ASIMOV’S and so forth.” She can be found at www.merriehaskell.com.

The Stuff We Don’t Do

Here is my latest Nature (Physics) Futures short, The Stuff We Don’t Do. It’s also available as a podcast. Go, read or listen, enjoy.

I’m pretty proud of this one. My inner angry 16-year-old is right about things sometimes. Thanks to Timprov for being the most local and immediate of the three positive inspirations for this story. Bonus points to anyone who can spot the other two–or, for that matter, the most notable of the negative inspirations.

Books read, late March

Ben Aaronovitch, Broken Homes. When Mark finished this, he said, “Very middle-book,” and I agree. It’s very hard to discuss this book outside the context of the rest of the series. I understand why some people had problems with the end, and I didn’t, and I would be happy to discuss it over email, but–giant giant spoilers, new book, so: email. Yes. (My gmail is marissalingen. This is available on my website, on my main lj site…I am really easy to find on email.)

Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor. Discussed elsewhere.

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents. Discussed elsewhere.

Emma Bull, Finder and War for the Oaks. Rereads. I have reread War for the Oaks multiple times over the years, including when we were house-hunting all over the Twin Cities, which was lovely. So that was more a familiar friend. I don’t think I’ve picked up Finder since I was a teenager, which meant, among other things, that when I encountered the minor character of Milo Chevrolet, my jaw dropped. When I was a teenager, I think what resonated for me with Finder was the idea that the things you’re good at can in some way be used to maneuver you into stuff you don’t want to do. That felt very familiar at the time, and it still works quite well.

Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent, Heaven is for Real. I read this as a favor to someone, and there is really no reason you should read it unless you want an exercise in subcultural dogwhistles and confirmation bias. Here’s what happened: a preschool-age kid had an experience during surgery that he described a few months later–I believe quite sincerely–as an experience of heaven. I believe that his parents, one of whom is an evangelical pastor, were very sincere in their attempts to elicit details from him about this experience. However. They didn’t even start writing down what he was saying until months after he started talking about it–so several months after the event. Of the things he said, they don’t seem to have asked any more pursuing questions about the single thing that was outside their theological orthodoxy (that Jesus has a rainbow horse). In addition to seeming to hold firm beliefs in their own verbatim memories and ability to not influence a three-year-old in the form of their questioning, they also hold the dubious belief that if they do not specifically recall sitting a three-year-old down and personally telling him a thing, there is no way for him to acquire knowledge that is common in their subculture. If that was the case, the human race would have died out long before now. Kids are sponges for information. And the more of an industry this becomes–it’s a movie now–and the more it’s used to support very very narrow ideas, the sketchier it looks to me, and the less the original little kid’s sincerity matters. Anyway: if you already believe in a right-wing evangelical Christian heaven with very particular trappings, there is nothing in this book that will be new or even very inspiring, and if you don’t, there is nothing in this book that has sound or convincing methodology to change your mind. No reason to read it.

Jennet Conant, 109 East Palace: Robert Oppenheimer and the Secret City of Los Alamos. This should be subtitled “Dorothy McKibbin and the Secret City of Los Alamos, because Conant used her grandfather’s connections (yes, that Conant) to talk to not just the scientists–everybody talks to the scientists–but the administrative staff. And as a result this book stands out from the common run of books on Los Alamos by chronicling and valuing the administrative and logistical work done by the women involved. Very much worth the time.

John M. Ford, The Scholars of Night. I would say “who else could center a spy novel on a lost Marlowe manuscript?”, except that, of course, the cover and the obvious inspiration provide the answer: Anthony Price probably could have. He didn’t, though, and he almost certainly wouldn’t have spent quite so much time on the wargaming as Mike did. I like this, but it does get a bit obscure in spots, I can see that when forced to.

Felix Gilman, The Revolutions. Discussed elsewhere.

Karen Healey, When We Wake. Someday, someday, some sweet sweet day, people will be done talking about how the Beatles are everything. But Karen Healey is approximately my age, so I’m beginning to think that I will not live to see that day. Don’t get me wrong, this was fun cryogenics dystopian YA SF–I enjoyed it and will look for the sequel quite happily. But I am so over the centrality and overwhelming brilliance of the Beatles in SF novels, I really really really really am.

Erik Hildinger, Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia, 500 BC to 1700 AD. (Yes, that is the way the title put it: 1700 AD, not AD 1700. Would that I could say that this was not indicative.) This was published in 1997, but it read more like 1957. Hildinger is the sort of historian who just goes around blithely saying that it’s hard to believe things for which there is perfectly good evidence, when what he means is that he doesn’t wanna. Which: tough toenails, little boy, the Sarmatians had female warriors. Honestly, some people’s kids. Also, if for some stupid reason you have decided that the Manchu count as steppe warriors (don’t decide this, just–don’t), you should notice that a book that would cover the rise of both the Yuan dynasty and the Manchu dynasty–and then, like, the Mongols in Europe and ten other things–would really need more than 240 pages not to do a shoddy job of it. There are some interesting bits here, but so much argh. So. Much. Argh.

Michael Holroyd, Augustus John: The New Biography. I kept coming up with alternate titles for this, such as Surrounded By Women More Interesting Than Himself and To Know Him Is To Loathe Him: The Augustus John Story. The up side was that Holroyd had the intellectual honesty to admit that he was greatly more interested in every single other person in Augustus John’s life including many of his servants, and so he would go off on lengthy tangents about them. (Many of the episodes in this book were also covered in the Gwen John bio. Gwen John’s biographer had no trouble whatever focusing on her, I’ll tell you that for free.) The down side was that this gave almost no narrative thrust to the rather weighty volume, and, given that the paintings were in the first set of illustrations and the sketches only in the second one, I was left very puzzled for quite some time as to why on earth anybody cared about this horrible, horrible man at all. Some of the sketches are rather nice, but in general, save yourself the trouble and go read Susan Chitty’s bio of Gwen John, even if she can’t stop calling her by both names, and then you’ll have the best of the John family. Or skip them. Skipping them is fine too.

Paul Kane and Charles Prepolec, eds., Beyond the Rue Morgue: Further Tales of Edgar Allen Poe’s First Detective. The main reason to read this, for me, was to restore my faith in Mike Carey after the latest volume of The Unwritten, and it did that beautifully. (Tammany Hall! I am such a sucker for things featuring Tammany Hall well-handled in era.) The other stories varied considerably but did not win my heart.

James Kochalka, The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza. Discussed elsewhere.

Ian McDonald, Empress of the Sun. I like some of the bits with the evolved dinosaurs, but in general I was less engaged with this than earlier bits of the series.

Reader’s Digest Editors, Great Biographies: Johann Strauss & Son, Adm. Richard Byrd, Heinrich Schliemann, etc.. Grandpa’s. Given the dates of it, possibly Gran’s first, not sure. I hesitate to give these bios by original author and title, because the flaws in them may well have been induced by the Reader’s Digest Editors, who did not care to give their own names. They were choppy and weird–the “Johann Strauss & Son” formulation, for example, when the “& Son” is the Johann Strauss most of us actually know well, and his father is something of a nonentity, comparatively. But the thing that really leapt out at me was how much sexism can kill, in the Byrd autobiography. This man got left by himself in a polar situation without knowing either cooking or organizational skills, which everyone would have thought was beyond horrible if he had been a girl. And the stories of what he tried to do to that poor polenta and those canned goods–he said he could have died, and I believe him, and gahhhh sexism kills. It kills women and girls in tiny rural villages every year. It could have killed Adm. Byrd. Sometimes our continuing survival as a species is a wonder, given the stupid crap we manage to come up with, I tell you what.

Jane Ridley, The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, The Playboy Prince. If you were saying to yourself, “Gosh, I’m feeling very positive about Queen Victoria just now, I would really like something to temper that,” do I have the book for you! Jane Ridley has read ten million pages of letters and other papers on Queen Victoria’s relationship with her heir, and she is willing to pass the near-toxic levels of emphasis on to you, dear reader. Seriously, this is a fascinating book that doesn’t feel nearly as long as it is, and it’s got all sorts of horrible Victorian stories. The press’s reaction to the death of Edward VII and Alexandra’s child, for example, was brutal. Jaw-droppingly brutal. Put quite a lot of things in perspective.

Marie Rutkoski, The Jewel of the Kalderash. The conclusion to this MG series, it returned, satisfyingly, to Bohemia and some of the characters from the first volume. Very series-y, so I wouldn’t start here, but I’m glad I read them all.

Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, This One Summer Discussed elsewhere.