Writer Wednesday: Fran Wilde

Photo courtesy of A. E. Bogdan

Fran Wilde is a writer and technology consultant hard at work on her third novel. You can read her short stories online at Nature Magazine and Daily Science Fiction She can tie various sailing knots, set gemstones and program digital minions. She blogs at franwilde.wordpress.com.

1. You have two novels completed and two more in progress. Tell us about them.

Moonmaker is adult science fiction. It’s my first novel, and I’ve recently received some fantastic feedback on it. The story is pretty ambitious, given that I’d never written a novel before. I am lucky to have people who believe in it, since the process of finishing a novel and getting it out there is so complex. Moonmaker combines game building and programming with a bunch of things I didn’t know much about until I dove into the research. A friend was kind enough to loan me an astrophysicist at one point (he’s awesome), so I had some great insights when it came to moons and orbits. I did a very light query on the book last fall, but have decided to take it back into editing. A few spin-off short stories are in process too.

The second novel, Bone Arrow, is my baby right now. It’s young adult fantasy, with a lot of low-tech engineering. I was a house writer for university engineering programs for a long time, and my first job was proofreading engineering articles. The tech behind bridges and towers and a few other things got stuck in my head, I guess. But that’s just setting, and offstage background. The characters in Bone Arrow — they ran away with the book. I had all these plans for what was supposed to happen, and… yeah. They had other plans. I loved watching the story unfurl. I love hearing reactions from people who have read it.

One thing I should say is that my friends from Viable Paradise who have urged me on while writing this book, and who are a really incredibly generous source of support, even while deep in their own work, have been there from the start on this. I’m very grateful for them. In addition, I took Bone Arrow with me to Taos Toolbox last summer. After an all-night plot-breaking session with my roommate and several amazing upcoming writers and friends, I’d grown a whole new grasp on how to plot story. Bone Arrow and the stories that come after are much stronger for these experiences.

The third novel is set in the same world as Bone Arrow, and the fourth is a distant-future offshoot of Moonmaker.

2. What short fiction publication are you most proud of, and why?

All of them, for different reasons. If you press me, I’d say, so far, the 2012 Nature story, “Without.” It’s short, but there’s a lot in it. I’m proud of it mostly because the story wasn’t working, even after a critique. Then I quit taking one character’s side over the other and let both characters have completely valid points, as they saw it. Then it worked. That was an important lesson.

3. You’ve interviewed an impressive collection of genre authors for your “Cooking the Books” project. Where did you get the idea to talk about writing by talking about food?

I’m having a ridiculously fun time with Cooking the Books. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement along the way, especially from author A.C. Wise and all the writers who have agreed to be interviewed so far.

Back in a previous life, I interviewed a lot of people for work. I missed doing it. When I started the column, it felt a bit more risky: this time I was interviewing people not for a client, or a journal, but because I really cared about the answers, for me. It’s exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

The whole thing started at Viable Paradise. Steven Gould (who not only has a new book out, Impulse, but is running for SFWA president – go check him out!) and I were talking about a recipe I had in the back pages of a foreign service cookbook. The recipe was for “Elephant Stew.” (the book also had “Stuffed Camel” and something for cobra.). The first direction is “Cut elephant into bite-sized pieces.” Steven Gould said “That sounds like a recipe for a novel.” I asked him if he’d say that in print, and we were off to the races. Shortly after, Elizabeth Bear and Gregory Frost agreed to interviews – and then people began suggesting others who might like to participate as well. I had a lot of fun interviewing more of the Viable Paradise faculty last fall: author James D. Macdonald, Macallister Stone (of Absolute Write), Bart, and author Steven Brust. The December interview with Aliette de Bodard was just amazing, and the upcoming interviews — well, they’re going to be awesome.

I’d love to have a dinner party with the recipes. Except for the marmot. And Joe Haldeman’s foxhole pizza. Also, we’d need more beverage recipes to pull off a good party. I’m also dreaming up ways to do a Cooking the Books game show at a convention.

4. Which fictional recipe would you most like to try?

Oh gosh. All of them? I love new tastes. I might skip the alien food from Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

I’m a little limited by food allergies in real life, so that’s probably why I like fictional food so much.

The best source for someone who makes fictional recipes come to life is Chelsea over at Food Thru the Pages and the folks at Fictional Food. Not only are the recipes fantastic, the photography is gorgeous.

5. You attended Viable Paradise in 2011. Now that you’ve had a year to process that experience, what stands out in your memory as the best moment of the workshop? Continue reading

Writer Wednesday: Mercedes M. Yardley talks Beautiful Sorrows

There is a place where sorrows pile up like snow and rest in your hair like cherry blossoms. Boys have wings, monsters fall in love, women fade into nothingness, and the bones of small children snap like twigs. Darkness will surely devour you–but it will be exquisitely lovely while doing so.

Mercedes M. Yardley’s Beautiful Sorrows is an ephemeral collection encompassing twenty-seven short tales full of devastation, death, longing, and the shining ribbon of hope that binds them all together.

I was pleased to get a chance to interview my friend Mercedes M. Yardley about her new collection, Beautiful Sorrows. She kindly answered a few lingering questions I had about Las Vegas, writing horror, and vegan cooking:

1. How has living in Las Vegas affected the kind of stories you want to tell?

MMY: Vegas helped introduce me to a different dark side of humanity than I saw in my home town. Of course we had a lot of the same issues there, but everything was on such a personal level. If somebody was hurt or arrested or killed, it affected the entire area. It’s much more nameless here in Vegas. Sometimes I feel like I’m practically stepping over dead bodies on my way to the grocery store. It makes me want to explore the more anonymous, detached aspect of horror.

2. What’s the most beautiful thing about writing horror?

MMY: I think the beauty is in the fact that horror is universal. We all experience fear. We’re all afraid of something. Maybe it’s ghosts, or monsters or men. We’re afraid of losing our children or being brutally rejected. There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t feel fear. You can’t say that about empathy or love. Our vulnerability makes us similar, and that is beautiful.

3. What was the easiest part of writing the stories in this collection? What was the hardest?

MMY: The easiest part was the writing. Writing is such a joy. The hardest part was the writing. Writing can be such a struggle. Some stories came very easily. “Edibility” and most of “Stars” just flowed. But “Black Mary”, which I think is one of the strongest stories in the collection, was certainly difficult for me. It was originally published in Robert Duperre’s The Gate 2, and I think I may have apologized when I turned it in. I’m very proud of the story now, but it took a bit of a toll on me. The same with “The Quiet Places Where Your Body Grows”, which is another favorite.

4. You’ve often talked about being a very visually oriented person. Do you see the imagery in your head before it gets written into your stories, or do you have to imagine what your stories would look like after you’ve constructed the plot?

MMY: Usually I sit and write without any idea of the plot, or maybe just a starting idea. “A girl is destined to be murdered” was the idea for one novel, and I uncovered the rest of the story chapter by chapter as I wrote it. Then I can imagine it. My current WIP, though, came as a very clear image. I was listening to Placebo’s “Follow the Cops Back Home” while driving, and I saw this scene where two weary people, a man and a woman, were having a conversation in the middle of a country lane. Whatever it was about, it was broken. Finished. Whatever happened was more than they could bear. Then they slowly started walking back home. The entire novel sprang from that idea. In fact, Azhar from “The Quiet Places Where Your Body Grows” may be the man in this scenerio. I’m not sure yet.

5. How do you find time to write between raising three children, taking care of the house, being active in your community and church, and – one assumes – occasionally sleeping?

MMY: Sleeping is the first thing to go. Absolutely. It difficult to find the time, and right now I’m busier than I’ve ever been in my life. I want to sleep, and I want to laze around and watch TV. But do I want it more than writing? Would it fulfill me more as a person to get a few more episodes of D. Gray-man in there? It’s about priorities. My family is absolutely a priority. My faith is absolutely a priority. Writing is a priority, and my husband is great to watch the kids and let me write. Some of the other stuff can fall. I take turns. Today the house sparkles and I got some great writing related projects finished, but I haven’t started dinner yet. And most likely won’t. Peanut butter was created for a reason.

6. You recently started cooking more vegan meals around the house. What’s your favorite recipe?

I’ll tell you if you share some more of yours! And thanks for the ones you’ve given me! I have two favorites that we use quite a bit, and what’s even more convenient is that they’re on the internet. The first is this delicious pineapple quinoa cashew stir fry from Veganomicon. (http://www.food.com/recipe/Pineapple-Cashew-Quinoa-Stir-Fry-309239) It’s absolutely delicious. My other favorite is the Barley Bean Bowl from the Skinny B*tch cookbook. (http://gazingin.com/2010/12/06/barley-and-red-beans/) It’s so refreshing.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mercedes.murdockyardley

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mercedesmy

Mercedes’ blog: www.mercedesyardley.com

BEAUTIFUL SORROWS is available on Amazon and at the Shock Totem store at www.shocktotem.com

Writer Wednesday: 10 Questions with Ken Liu

I’ve realized that I know some awesomely brilliant writers. Whether just starting to make a name for themselves or authors who’ve been working in this field for decades, they have insights into writing that I may never have gotten to myself, and I wanted to know more. I wanted their secrets, their advice, the gleaming nuggets of wisdom plucked from their brains. So, I asked a few questions (10, to be precise), and these wonderful people answered. I’ve decided to share these interviews with you because I learned something about writing and you might too.

First up is science fiction author, program, and tax lawyer (yes, really), Ken Liu:

1. You were a programmer before you were a lawyer, and now in addition to that job you’ve added husband, father, and writer. How has your writing changed as you’ve acquired these new experiences? Can you see the effect of your life on your work over time, or has your style remained constant?

I think the experiences of a writer can’t help but show up in his fiction—mutated, transformed, sublimated, disguised—but they’ll be there. You write about what’s on your mind. I thought much more about parenthood after my daughter was born, and the theme of parenthood became much more prominent in my stories. My ideas about the law shifted after studying it and practicing it for a while, and that change is reflected in my stories as well.

I hope that just as we grow more interesting and wiser over time—a notion that some would question—we also become better writers. So I’d like to think that my writing has improved over the years as I’ve learned more about the world and myself. But some things have stayed constant over the years. There’s a certain lens that I view the world through which leaves its mark on everything I write. I have a hard time articulating exactly what that mark is, but even my earliest stories have the same “flavor” as my latest ones.

2. Because you have less time to devote to writing than perhaps someone who writes full-time, do you have to make choices about which ideas you’re going to work on? If so, how do you decide which stories to breath life into?

When I sit down to draft or edit, it takes a while to get the work-in-progress back into my head before I can be productive. Because of this cost for context switching and the many demands and interruptions imposed by the non-writing life, I usually avoid ideas that have a tendency to sprawl all over the place. But some big ideas just refuse to let me go. I’ve been collaborating with my wife on a novel, and now I’m thinking of starting another one by myself. I need to develop processes that will allow me to work on a big idea through short sessions spread out over a long period of time.

3. What was the first story you ever sold, and how would you have written if differently if you had to do it again tomorrow?

The very first story that I sold, “Carthaginian Rose,” was bought in 2002 by Empire of Dreams and Miracles: The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology (v. 1), edited by Orson Scott Card and Keith Olexa. I still like that story, and if I were to do it again today, I think the main thing I would change is the drafting process. Back then, I wrote extremely slowly (it took me more than half a year to finish a first draft for a short story), and I didn’t understand how to work with critiques—I had a hard time telling apart comments that I needed to think about and comments that I needed to ignore. Writing faster and getting better at making use of feedback are two skills I’ve improved since then. Continue reading