My Writing Process – Blog Tour

I was honored when my esteemed Clarion classmate Chris Kammerud (@cuvols) asked me to be a part of the blog tour, but I was also hesitant, mostly due to “lack of blog.” I managed to scrounge up my dusty ol’ WordPress login, though, so here we go!

1) What am I working on?

I just finished a revision pass on a near-future sf novel about undocumented immigrant power bandits in Arizona. It’s called American Sun and I’m seeking an agent for it. I’m well into outlining my next novel, Radio Callisto, about rock-musicians-turned-revolutionaries on the moons of Jupiter. I’m hoping to have a draft done by the end of the year.

More pressingly, I’m working on a short story for the Awkward Robots Anthology, which is being put together by my 2012 Clarion class as a fundraiser for their foundation. Look for the pay-what-you-will DRM-free ebook later this summer!

2) How does my work differ from others’ in the same genre?

Sense of humor and engagement with pop culture are probably the big ones. For me, great writing is funny, period. I like my comedies funny and my dramas funnier. I like a smiling dystopia (Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” is one of my favorite works of sf in any medium). I don’t think humor precludes a work being “serious” or engaging with big ideas; on the contrary, a writer who displays a good sense of humor is proving to me she’s smart enough to listen to on the big important stuff. One of the reasons I got into fiction writing was that I didn’t see a lot of new sf that engaged with big ideas with a sense of humor the way that some of my favorite classic sf authors (Frederich Pohl, J.G. Ballard, Douglas Adams) did. I am one to laugh blackly at tragedy in real life, and my writing follows pretty closely. The future scares me–that’s one of the reasons I write about it.

Science fiction that is in dialogue with its pop cultural context is interesting to me and so I try to emulate that in my own work, particularly in short stories. Leave the timeless archetypal works for the full-length novels; for me the short story should be a place for a writer to play and to push envelopes and to figure stuff out, a snapshot of who & where they were at the time. I very much admire the short fiction of Eileen Gunn, which–in addition to being frequently hilarious–often seems to be engaged with the cultural moment in which she’s writing it (see “Fellow Americans,” “Nirvana High”). Even when older stories are a bit opaque to me due to lack of proper context, I still find them fascinating as a glimpse into the mind of the person the author was at the moment she wrote it.

3) Why do I write what I do?

When people ask me this, I always half-joke that writing “keeps me off the streets.” My first and foremost goal in writing (and in life in general, really) is to not be bored.

That’s why I write at all, anyway. What I write is some product of my subconscious drives and my waking interests, which have always revolved around technology and media. As I said above, I think about the future a lot, and some days the thoughts are terrifying. I think too long about runaway global warming or superviruses or cable monopolies and it’s all I can do not to throw up. Writing about the future is a way for me to examine these issues more closely, and through that to convince myself that things aren’t as dire as they sometimes seem. I suppose it’s no wonder that I’m often looking for humor in bad situations when I write; writing’s basically like therapy for me.

4) How does my writing process work?

For my initial idea sparks, I’m a fervent believer in the “commonplace book” (for me, that takes the form of a text file that syncs between my phone and other computers). I try to jot down anything in my life that I notice or think that seems interesting, even/especially without an immediate plan to use it. I’ve learned not to force ideas, and instead to let them organically collide and coalesce before I try to make them work as stories. Sometimes this happens quickly, sometimes not. I’m fortunate to have a day job (TV editing) that provides a living for me and also allows several months a year off for full-time writing. At the end of most seasons I find I have a backlog of ideas that I haven’t had time to work on during the television year.

All my formal writing training is in screenwriting, so I’m a big believer in structure. I outline everything extensively before I write, even short stories. On a first draft I tend to connect the dots in a pretty minimal way, then use the rewriting process to shade in detail or clarify what my first readers tell me isn’t clear. My stories are like those old progressive jpegs that come in all blurry at first, then keep re-scanning at better and better resolution. I don’t usually like reading verbose description or flowery prose, so I don’t write it. For me the ideal solution to any problem is the minimal one, and writing is no different.

After I write I find it hard to be objective about my work, so I’m lucky to have very smart people to give me feedback, namely my Clarion 2012 classmates (and my wife, who’s the smartest person I know). Their perspective is what allows me to keep working on a piece without having to put it away for months or years between rewrites. I tend not to tinker with stories forever, preferring instead to move onto something new. I’ve written enough to recognize the point at which I’m no longer making something better, just different. The initial rush of hammering a new idea into a story that works is my favorite part of the process, so that’s what I tend to chase.

I hope this was somehow interesting and/or useful to someone out there! Thanks again to Chris Kammerud for the invite. Next up: Carrie Smith (@adaengine), a fellow Angeleno who is a writer of many things, including comics; and Eric Esser (@ericdesser), another of my Clarion brethren.

3 thoughts on “My Writing Process – Blog Tour

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