Saturday, September 17, 2005

AUSSIE INTERVIEW: General Questions

What do you find hardest about writing fiction?

K.J. Bishop: It depends, but combat scenes spring to mind. And sex scenes!

Grace Dugan

Grace Dugan: At the moment, what I'm struggling with is having enough time to make a living as well as writing, and studying, and all that other stuff. In terms of the writing itself, I've analysed myself as having something of a fear of exposure. Sometimes I write something, and I worry about it, and then I wonder if I should go back and change it, etc etc, all the while knowing that I should probably be less guarded and more honest. The lag between writing and publication certainly helps. Periodically I struggle with various aspects of craft. At the moment, it's description.

Trent Jamieson: Everything from the first sentence on. Writing for me is a constant battle with doubt, that doesn't finish even once the work has been published.

Justine Larbalestier: Beginning the first draft of a novel that I've already sold . . . Deadlines! My mind is immediately flooded with ideas for a thousand other novels. All of which I'd much rather write than the book I'm supposed to be writing. It's agony starting a novel that you're writing to deadline. From now on I only want to sell novels that I've already written.

Geoffrey Maloney: Getting the time to do it. Other than that action scenes. They're always so clunky in writing, mine and others, and one of the reasons why movies were invented, isn't that right?

Cat Sparks: Right now I'd have to say finding the time to write. I'm in a writing frame of mind but I have so many other deadlines, so many projects that have to be completed such as cover art, desktop publishing, grant applications, etc. I wish it would all go away so I could get on with the good stuff. I am managing to get some prose on the page every day, but not as much or as fast as I'd like.

Anna Tambour: Finding the nerve.

Scott Westerfeld: The middle third of a novel is where I sweat and swear and fume the most. In the first third, everything is expanding gloriously and the rest of the book seems to have no limits. While finishing, a wonderful momentum builds…But the middle third is like that part of a fabulous meal where I realize I've eaten too much, and I'm bloated and gassy--the part before the first decent burp. Everything I've bit into in the first third has to be accounted for and brought under control, and I never feel like I can possibly finish without a giant train wreck. (Or at least without mixing some metaphors.)

Tambour's Spotted Lily

Kim Wilkins: Since I had my son, it's just finding time and energy. Little children really do sap you! I think most writers would admit that the hardest part is getting it to work as well on the page as it does in your head. Shelley said "once composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline" and I tend to agree with him. Of course, Shelley left "revision" out of the equation, and working through the sentences again and again until you've got them right is always possible. But it's really quite dismaying when a fabulous idea in your head turns into a bloodless clunky mess on the page.

What gives you the most joy?

KJB: Those times when the muse takes the wheel and I can just sit back and transcribe - I love that, because it feels like someone's telling me a story, giving me surprises.

GD: I get pretty excited when I get a new idea that I really like. I usually have a blissful half hour scribbling in my notebook, until I know I've got the bones of it down. I also just love putting stories together, making all the elements work together. I guess you'd call this plotting, but I don't necessarily do it ahead of time, or think about it consciously that much.

TJ: That first sentence - which may not even end up in the story itself, and probably won't even be the first sentence. Sentences develop a pulse, and that pulse is lovely, delicious even, and usually, for me tied up with an image. Yep, that first sentence is good, then everything falls away, but I know it's there.

Anthology from Cat Spark's Agog! press

JL: That's really hard to answer. There are so many things I love about writing. I love the moment when I finish the first draft. There's that wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Look at me I finished a whole book! I don't think I'll ever get over it. By the time I was in my early twenties I'd started heaps of novels, but never finished a one. It wasn't until my early thirties that I finally finished a novel and that only after I'd finished my PhD thesis. I've now written five books (Battle of the Sexes which was my thesis and four novels), so I'm pretty confident that I can to it. But it's still a joyous feeling. And then there's looking forward to the rewriting when you get to go through the complete draft and make it as good as you can. Rewriting is my favorite part.

GM: I presume this question is about writing. What I call breaking the back of a story that I'm working on: the point where I realize that I've captured what I've been trying to do. It is at this point that the story stops struggling and starts helping me do what needs to be done. If not about writing, then my family, especially watching one of my nine-year-old daughters play violin in her junior orchestra. The fact that she can do it and read music and she's only nine. I think I was still chasing lizards around the backyard at that age.

CS: Completing the first draft of a story. I find first drafts hideously painful. To me, a story becomes a real item when the first draft is done. It may stink but if it has a beginning, middle, end & contains believable characters then it's a real thing and I know I'll be able to polish it into shape and make it work.

AT: When the story is the only reality--when that reality uses me as a scribe.

SW: Probably that last third of the novel. I'm a momentum writer, and nothing's better than the pleasures of blowing things up, wrapping them up, and plowing through 2000 words a day. My whole mind is colonized by the novel by then, which means I walk around in a wonderful daze, with a whole world in my head.

Also, by the last third I know where everything is headed, which in my life is an experience pretty much limited to writing.

KW: When I'm in "the zone" as Stephen King would say. When I'm sitting there slamming away at the keyboard and the world has ceased to exist and all the characters are saying clever things to each other and the atmosphere is working and I'm excited about the possibilities of the next scene and the one after…. Nothing compares to it.

What aspect of the writing life or writing community is most in your thoughts right now, and why?

KJB: The balance between writing and the rest of life; self-identity, of which being a writer is only one part.

GD: At the moment I'm thinking a lot about teaching. I'm studying an MA in Creative Writing at Queensland University of Technology, and like many other postgrad students, I'm doing a little bit of tutoring (for fun and profit). It's the first time I've really been in a position of authority when talking about writing, which I find slightly uncomfortable, although at the same time I'm drunk on power.

It's made me think about why people want to be writers, and what delusions they might be suffering under (to make them want to), as well as what I should best do to help them. It's also made me realise how silly it is when we talk about writing as if it were a regular career, as if you can just do x, y and z and then succeed. Every time I think of a piece of advice for my students (which is much more often that I actually give them advice) I can think of several examples of writers I know who've never done whatever it is (like, writing every day, setting yourself goals, going to festivals and conventions). The more I think about it, the more the idea of being "successful" as a writer just doesn't make sense to me.

Geoffrey Maloney

I'm also coming to grips with the change in status that seems to come with selling a novel. I feel this inside the SF community, in the regular world, and also among the writers at QUT. In so many ways it's great, but also slightly awkward: if I don't mention it or talk about it, people tell me I'm being overly modest, but sometimes when I do talk about it casually, people look at me like I'm showing off. It's been a great confidence boost for me as a writer, but it also seems to be far too highly regarded compared to other very worthwhile things, like writing and publishing good short fiction.

TJ: Focus, keeping focused is the thing I'm worry about. There's so many of those sentences tugging at me, that prioritizing stuff can be hard. Other than that, I often wake up in the middle of the night and worry about semi-colons, but my medication is helping with that one…The Australian writing community is incredibly vibrant, there was a time you could read pretty much everything being produced here, now it's just about impossible - well, if you actually want to get any writing done.

JL: This is going to sound really daggy, but I'm loving the blogsphere, especially writer's blogs. They enable me to stay in conversation with my writer friends all over the world. I love that blogs and email allow me to stay in contact with Angelica Gorodischer in Argentina, Deborah Biancotti in Sydney, Cat Sparks in Wollongong, Lili Wilkinson in Melbourne, Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe in Kentucky, John Scalzi in Ohio, Lauren McCaughlin in London, Charlie Stross in Scotland, Chris Barzak in Japan and so on and so forth. It's so cool to have correspondences with writers I've never met before. Like Cherie Priest in Tennessee, and just the other day I heard from one of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Knox, because I'd written about her on my blog. I was over the moon.

Kim Wilkins' Grimoire

GM: The Devil in Brisbane, The Devil in Brisbane, The Devil in Brisbane, The Devil in Brisbane etc to 1000 lines.

CS: I've just returned from the US where I was a prizewinner in the 2004 Writers of the Future competition. I met a wonderful bunch of people over there in Seattle, both tutors and fellow classmates. Right now I'm feeling the constraints of swimming in a small pond. The Aussie SF writing community is terrific, but I pretty much know everyone in it, half of them so well that they feel like family. I want to meet new people who like what I like. I want to go to World Fantasy, Wiscon, Worldcon... But Australia is a hefty airfare away from all of that. I can't imagine where I'd ever get the money to fund such expeditions.

AT: Honesty. The need for it.

SW: Right now, because of Katrina, probably the blogsphere. So many novelists, like John Scalzi and Cherie Priest, have been writing about their reactions in such a personal way. News media in general is so crap, I'd almost forgotten what it was like to have articulate and nuanced responses to tragedy in the public sphere.

KW: We have a different market in Australia to the US or the UK. So in terms of what is in my thoughts right now, there are two things specific to where I live. One, the growth of the SF community in Australia. The last ten years have been amazing, and now most capital cities host a con, we have Clarion South down here, and there's a lot of activity and great camaraderie. Second, the rise of the middlebrow novel in the Australian market. This is in my thoughts because I'm only really tangentially an "SF" writer. Over here, we don't have a viable "dark fantasy" market. I write big sumptuous semi-historical thrillers, and they are very much "middlebrow". So I'm thinking about possibilities for me to cross over into this enormous market which has opened up.


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