I got tagged by J.W. Martin. I accept this challenge, for great justice!
What genres, styles, and topics do you write about?
I write speculative fiction almost exclusively. Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy are the only genres I tend to care much about. My stories tend to have elements of cosmic horror, or faery tale logic. I like to ask existential questions, like “What is identity?” or “Can humans exist in ways other than they currently do?” with my fiction.
The theme varies depending on the genesis of the idea. I tend to start with a nice, chewy story and work it over until a theme emerges, rather than starting from theme and working outward. Common threads I’ve noticed are death, memory, love (lost, spurned, or blossoming), family, and legacy.
But I really never know what I’m going to write, or what’s going to come out of me, until the pen hits the paper.
How long have you been writing?
All my life. I decided I wanted to be a writer very young, but I went on adventures instead, moving around the U.S. and living in a handful of different states. Throughout that time, I was writing, but it was very unfocused. I’ve only started to get good at it in the past few years, after cultivating a habit of (almost) daily writing.
Why do you write?
I think it’s to contextualize life experience. All humans are born with built-in biases and heuristics. Narrative Bias is a big interest of mine, how we tell and re-tell ourselves the story of our lives. Unique among animals, humans comprehend their own mortality. I think writing is a way of explaining who we are, and what our time on Earth means.
Writing is escapism. So is reading, but when writing, you get to forge the path through the wilderness, rather than follow it. That is the beauty, and the difficulty, of being a writer.
Escapism gets a bad rap. When we escape, we go into the undiscovered country of the subconscious (the Belly of the Whale) and pull out hidden knowledge about ourselves, things we never could’ve known any other way. This knowledge helps us deal with the everyday struggles we all have to face, everything from our inane day jobs, to dealing with the death of a loved one.
When is the best time to write?
Always. For me, it’s at 4AM, before anyone else is awake, and before the hated day star has risen. Also, during afternoon lunch. Also, after work. Also, after everyone else has gone to bed. Writing in the dark, by firelight, is best.
To the aspiring writer, I’d just say to try multiple time slots, and try to gauge when you’re at your best. Then, write at that time every day. Also write whenever you have a spare moment, and whenever the mood strikes you. But make sure you’re at your desk, waiting, at the same time every day, just in case the Muse decides to show up. If she doesn’t, write without her.
What parts of writing do you love and hate?
I love having written. The feeling of completion is ecstasy, surpassed only by the feeling of having one of your stories accepted by a publication.
I love when one of my characters says “You know those plans you had for me? Well, fuck that. I’m doing something else.” I hate then having to go back and alter previous passages and shift my outline, but the discovery that my characters have lives of their own is worth it. For this reason, I keep my outlines loose.
I hate when I’ve lost my way in a story, or run out of steam to complete it, and am reduced to rage-typing and gritting my teeth through to completion. But the most important thing is to finish. For this reason, I no longer rely completely on discovery writing.
I love when a reader tells me what my story meant to them. I especially love it when they see a subtle detail that I tried to bake into the narrative. If they don’t see it, that’s fine too, as long as the piece succeeded as a story.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
— Ernest Hemingway
I don’t know if I actually get writer’s block. I don’t often come to a point in the story where I can’t think of anything that happens next. I do come to places in my stories where I’m dissatisfied with the direction I’ve gone and contemplate backtracking to a more solid foundation.
When I feel stuck, or dissatisfied, I use a number of different strategies:
- I use Ray Bradbury’s method of Conjuring the Nouns.
- I use Bibliomancy, simply opening to a random page from a beloved book (The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft are a favorite), blindly poking a finger at a line, then using the chosen passage as a prompt.
- I use Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies cards. I cannot recommend these cards enough. They are for sale, and there are also a number of free apps on Android.
- I use random tables from RPGs to create elements for my stories. May I recommend the Random Sword & Sorcery Adventure Generator?
- I go back to the outline and character sketches, often rewriting them, until I have a clearer vision.
- I grit my teeth and scream as I rage-type.
Are you working on something at the moment?
Yes. I’m re-writing an urban fantasy horror that I wrote last year. I don’t know yet if it will end up being Middle Grade, or perhaps Young Adult. Whatever it ends up being depends upon the wishes of the characters, not mine.
But I will say that I despise the tendency to write down to young people. Children understand more than they let on, and they can handle more than you think. The world of childhood can be a dark place, no matter how much adults romanticize their youths.
What are your writing goals this year?
To revise and submit as many of my short stories as time between novels allows. I hope to see my work end up in print publications, and online. To refine my prose into a more workmanlike tone. To catch hold of a white-hot idea and ride it through to the end of a novel. So, the same as every year, I guess.