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Jan
04
Thomas Archibald Barron is a science fiction and fantasy writer known for his Lost Years of Merlin series and Great Tree of Avalon series.

Spherical Time: Do you have a process when you write, and if so, can you describe a little bit of it? Do you do extensive planning and research before starting a work, for example?

TAB: Normally I need some sort of aerial photograph of the terrain of a quest. So I know the approximate beginning, ending, and the dangerous marshes or inspiring peaks in between. This means writing an outline, which you could call my trail map. Then I intentionally lose the map, so I can find out what the terrain is like on the ground. Often my characters tell me to turn right when the map says turn left. In such cases, I always listen to my characters. Then I rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite, researching whatever is required. In the end, the journey has included several surprises and experiences I would not have predicted.

When I was creating a tribe of Native Americans for the book The Ancient One, I had to spend time researching a dozen real American tribes that once lived in the Pacific Northwest. Learning about their life, their culture, their world. And long before I began writing The Lost Years of Merlin, I buried myself in all the Merlin lore I could find: Celtic myths, ancient ballads, the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth, the writings of T. H. White and others, even Shakespeare's references to Merlin.

Spherical Time: Many of your books, such as The Merlin Effect, The Lost Years of Merlin, and The Great Tree of Avalon are based on the Arthurian Legends. What inspires you so much about the Arthurian Legends, and where else do you find ideas?

TAB: Ever since my days as a student at Oxford, I have loved the character Merlin-his richness, his depth, his appreciation for both the weaknesses and virtues of humanity. And his love for Nature, his greatest teacher. When I was researching Arthurian lore to write Kate's undersea adventure, The Merlin Effect, I was struck by the fact that of all the thousands of stories about Merlin written over the past 1500 years, almost none are about his youth. He is the ancient wizard, the mentor of King Arthur, the co-creator of Camelot. But where did he come from? And what made it possible for him to become the greatest wizard of all times? That mystery got me going-although when I started out trying to fill in the gap of Merlin's lost years, I had no idea what a big project it would be. Here you had this wondrous tapestry of myth about him, woven over fifteen centuries, and it had a big, gaping hole: Merlin's lost youth. But the weaving needed to be delicate as well as bold; honoring tradition as well as original.

To make things even more challenging, I started out with a boy who washes ashore, with no home and no memory-the absolute opposite of a great, exalted wizard. For Merlin to grow in a believable way, from that humble beginning to his glorious destiny, required more than just three books. That's why my original plan of a trilogy swelled to five books. And that's also why it took me almost a full decade to write the five books of The Lost Years of Merlin.

Spherical Time: The character of Kate from Heartlight, The Ancient One and The Merlin Effect is both empathic and brilliantly characterized. Can you talk about the process of her creation, and how you made the choices that led to her existence?

TAB: All of us have an infinite variety of voices down inside of us. It is very difficult to hear those voices, and to respect them. The challenge of making the character of Kate feel true was enormous. To do it I had to find the voice of the young girl within myself-not easy for a man in his late thirties. The reward, however, was equally enormous. It has opened up a new side of life for me. What ever made me do such a thing? The credit goes to our first child, a girl named Denali. When she was born, I was working hard on Heartlight. I didn't know whether the lead character would be a boy or a girl, but I did know that the book would be about the idea that every life matters somehow. It was an idea I hoped that she might enjoy one day. So I made Grandfather's sidekick a girl. That decision was the easy part. Then I had to find the voice of the young girl in myself, and listen. Really listen.

Spherical Time: Can you say a few words about how your care and concern for the environment informs and affects your writing?

TAB: I grew up in places where Nature was always nearby, so I could explore a creek, climb a tree, pick an apple, or just cover myself with mud. The nearness of Nature shaped me profoundly. Not just in the challenging, adventurous ways you might expect -- in deeper, spiritual ways, as well.

For example, I remember a snowy day when I was very young. My mother dressed me in one of those big puffy snowsuits that made me look like a huge, waddling balloon, and took me outside. There was so much snow, the drifts were even taller than me. Then my mother patted the top of an enormous snowdrift, and said, "Guess what? Believe it or not, there are flowers under there. You won't see them until springtime, but it's true." I was astounded. Amazed. Flowers? Under there? She was telling me about the patterns of the seasons, of course -- but also about something more. Something like hope. Transformation. Renewal.

Or … another day, when my brother and I found a slab of petrified wood, over fifty million years old, on the hill behind our Colorado ranch house. Geologic time -- now there's a great way to gain some perspective on human ideas of time and mortality. And then there was another day, as I was walking through a meadow on the ranch, following some fox tracks, when I saw some geese flying overhead. They were so close, I could hear their wings whooshing as they flew. I realized that some of those geese had started their journey way up in the Arctic, in Alaska, and had flown over western Canada and the Rocky Mountains, all the way to our little meadow. And it struck me that their flight tied together some of the most beautiful places on this continent -- that, by the very beating of their wings, they showed how connected those places really are. And how connected I was, too, to those very same places.

So why is wilderness important? Because unspoiled Nature is the last, best place on Earth for people to stand upright and tall, dwarfed by the sweep of the stars or the sweep of time, and yet still part of it all -- connected to the changing seasons, the fox tracks, or the flight of geese. In Nature, we can feel both very small, and very large, at once -- part of the universe, the pattern, the mystery.
Dec
13
Patricia C. Wrede is a fantasy and science fiction writer. Her works include Magic & Malice, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and the Young Adult novelizations of the first three Star Wars Episodes (I, II, III).

Spherical Time: When you write a book, do you follow a pattern or specific method? If so, can you describe was it is?

PCW: Not really. I do some research and maybe make some notes, I write a plot outline, I start writing. Then I throw the plot outline away, because what I've written has nothing to do with it, write another plot outline, and keep on writing. Then I throw that plot outline away, do another one, and continue further.

Spherical Time: How much planning do you do when you write a novel? How much background work do you have accomplished before you start writing a book like Dealing with Dragons or one of it's sequels?

PCW: "Dealing with Dragons" was a prequel, so its plot was pretty much set when I wrote it. "Talking to Dragons" was strictly make-it-up-as-you-go. Every book is different. Sometimes, I do a lot of research and upfront planning; sometimes, I write several chapters and then stop and do some research; sometimes, I just write the whole thing. There are some fairly obvious reasons why something would fall into one category or another -- the Enchanted Forest books are set in a fairy-tale universe, and I've been reading and loving fairy tales all my life. For those books, my "research" had already been done. For something like "Mairelon the Magician" or the Kate and Cecy books, that have a semi-historical setting, I needed to do a lot more research. For the first Mairelon book, I did a lot of the research in advance, because I knew it would be needed; the first Kate and Cecy book was done as a game, where it didn't matter if we got things wrong, so for that one, the research and corrections came later.

Spherical Time: I'm most familiar with your Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and one of the things that struck me deeply about those books were the amazing characters. How do you come up with your characters, and how do you write them with such vivid detail?

PCW: This is another one of those things that everyone does a little differently. For me, they mostly walk into my head. I don't sit down and work out their hopes and fears and motivations and personalities and then start writing. I get to know them as I write, the same way you'd get to know a real person. Which isn't to say that I think they're real; it's more that I'll be writing a scene and get to some point where just about anyone would offer their guests something to drink -- tea or coffee or whatever. And I'll stop for a minute and think, what would *this* character offer? Would it be tea and coffee, or hot chocolate, or Mrs. Chill's Super Phospate, or what? Once I've done that, I know a little bit more about that character, and that affects how I make the next decision that comes up.

Spherical Time: What motivates you to write? Where do you find inspiration?

PCW: Writing is where my income comes from, so asking "what motivates you" is like asking anyone else what motivates them to get up and drive to work every morning. It's my *job*. I have to do it to pay the mortgage and feed my cats. It's exactly the same sort of problem that any self-employed person faces.

Inspiration doesn't have as much to do with writing as most people think. If I waited around to be inspired, I'd never have written as much as I have. A lot of the difference between a professional writer and a would-be writer is that most professionals write *even when they don't feel like it.* Because it's their job. Inspiration is lovely when it happens (and there are certainly one or two curve-wrecking writers out there who are inspired all the time, and who can thus get away with writing "only when they're inspired"), but most of us can't count on it to pay the bills.

Spherical Time: The Enchanted Forest books deal primarily with playing on fairy tales and twisting them to bring out new ideas. How did you come up with the new ideas from the old stories?

PCW: Fairy tales follow a pattern -- it's always the youngest son who succeeds in the quest, for instance. The pattern is the first thing you think of when you think of fairy tales -- "Once upon a time there was a goosegirl..." "Long ago and far away there lived a prince..." All I ever did was look at the pattern and then think about other options that didn't fit the traditional expectations. It's a technique that's recommended in a lot of writing books: come up with ten or twenty alternatives for what could come next. The first three to five are the obvious things that anyone would think of, the things that fit the pattern: Once upon a time, there was a prince, a princess, a woodcutter, a poor widow. But after five or six tries, you start running out of the automatic obvious things, and you have to start reaching for other options: Once upon a time, there was an investment banker, a housewife, a modern dance instructor. It's mostly a matter of how you look at the world; once you get in the habit of reaching past the obvious, automatic, default assumptions about what things are and what's going to happen next, you do it all the time.

Spherical Time: As a beginning writer, what kinds of challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

PCW: Learning to write whether I felt like it or not was the first and biggest, and it's ongoing (though it's a little easier now, because I know from experience that it works). That one was serendipity -- I'd managed to get about half a novel written over the course of four years, fiddling with it only when I felt like it. Then I changed apartments, and had to pack everything up, and when I did, I realized how much I already had finished, and all my Swiss-German ancestors rose up in my head to tell me I simply wasn't allowed to waste all that effort by not finishing it. At about the same time, a good friend found out I was working on a book, and he wanted to read it, but he refused to read it until it was finished. So I just started working on it every day, whether or not I felt like it, in order to get it *done*. I wrote the last half of the book, and did all the revisions and the final re-type (this was before computers) in six months. And by the time I was done, it was so obvious that I got so much more written by working even when I didn't really feel like it that I couldn't kid myself about "being inspired" any more.

Spherical Time: When you published your first novel, did you use a literary agent, or did you submit directly to the publisher? At the time, how extensive were your writing credits?

PCW: I had zero writing credits, and I submitted through the slush pile; I didn't get an agent until I was well into writing my third novel. I'd been *trying* to sell short fiction, because I thought that's what you did, to build your writing credit so you could sell a novel. It was just about the worst writing advice anybody ever gave me.

Writers come in three sorts: natural short story writers, natural novelists, and the rare few who are ambidextrous, who can write at any length with equal facility. Everyone *wants* to believe they're one of the rare few who can do any length with equal easy, but hardly anyone is. People whose natural length is the short story find short stories easy to write well, and often have trouble learning to write novels; people who are natural novelists are the other way around.

I'm a natural novelist. Short stories are very, very difficult for me to do well -- back when I was trying to break in, I kept getting rejections that said things like "This sounds like Chapter 3 of a novel" and "This sounds like the outline for a novel." Short stories are *different* from novels. There's some overlap in technique -- they...
Nov
25
Steven Karl Zoltán Brust is a fantasy writer known for his Vlad Taltos Novels and Khaavren Romances, as well as several stand alone novels including Brokedown Palace and Agyar.

Spherical Time: To begin, can you describe where and when you work? Do you write at a desk or table longhand, or straight into a computer? What time of day do you find you write the best?

SKZB: I seem to live on a 26-hour day--that is, my schedule seems to advance two hours a day. I get up, get coffee, do my email, open up the file of whatever I'm working on, and let it stare at me while I wake up, or browse the web, or play a computer game, or whatever. If it's the beginning of project, I just pick at it while doing other things. If it's near the end, I probably spend the whole day writing. In between, things seem to open up a bit as I'm starting to get tired, which I think accounts for the 2 hour shift; I don't like to quit when things are flowing.

Spherical Time: How do you plan out a book before you write it? Your longest running series, the Vlad Taltos saga, contains numerous connections, references and hints about books that were not or will not be published until later. How much work had you done when you began writing Jhereg and other Vlad Taltos novels?

SKZB: I sometimes plan out a book in great detail--500 Years After and Brokedown Palace both had extensive plot outlines. Other times, I have no clue what will happen in the next paragraph--Teckla and Taltos were both like that. I prefer the latter--it's more fun to tell myself a story. I had bits and pieces of Vlad's career in mind when I wrote Jhereg, and have accumulated more, but I ignore them if I come up with a better idea while writing a scene.

Spherical Time: Do you follow a strict method when writing a novel, and if so, can you describe it?

SKZB: Nope. I have a lot of different approaches. My favorite involves starting out with a cool opening sentence, then a cool sentence to follow, and I keep doing that until I need to figure out what the book is about.

Spherical Time: As a beginning author, what were your largest challenges and how did you overcome them?

SKZB: My biggest challenge was a tendency to write a chapter or two, go back and fix it, and keep doing that until I lost momentum and stopped. I had to force myself to get to the end, no matter how bad it was, and worry about fixing it after I had a first draft. Part of it was convincing myself that I was just writing it for my own pleasure and I had no intention of submitting it. That got me to the end, and through the revisions, after which, of course, I promptly submitted it.

Spherical Time: When you published your first novel, did you use a literary agent, or did you submit directly to the publisher? At the time, how extensive were your writing credits?

SKZB: I submitted it directly to the publisher, then, once I had an offer, had an agent negotiate the deal for me. At the time, I had no writing credits.

Spherical Time: What motivates you to write? Where do you find inspiration?

SKZB: I want to make people feel the way I felt when I first read Zelazny's Lord of Light.

Spherical Time: One of the reasons that I think that your work impresses me so much are the incredibly detailed settings of the Dragaeran empire. Do you have any advice for writers on how to craft their worlds?

SKZB: Start with the food and work out from there.

Spherical Time: The Khaavren Romances are in a distinctly different style than the Vlad Taltos books, and I've noticed that recently you seem to be alternating between a Vlad Taltos novel, and then one or two Khaavren Romances. Why does writing in multiple literary styles appeal to you?

SKZB: While, the whole point of style is that it has to bounce off the story in an interesting way. You can't really separate them. So far, I've been lucky enough to be able to just write the next story I felt like writing. Finding the right style, or voice, to match the story is really the fun the part. Okay, one of the fun parts. To only use one style would be to deprive myself of a lot of the fun.

Spherical Time: I believe that you belong to a writers group or club called the Scribbles. Do you have any suggestions for finding or starting a writing group?

SKZB: First of all, get it out of your head that you need a writers group. You don't. You need to write, and after you've written, you need to be self-critical, and re-write. If you find that the editor who lives in the back of your head isn't good at his job, then /maybe/ a writers group will be useful. I got very, very lucky with the Scribblies--we work together very well, and egos don't get in the way.

I have tons of specific advice on how a writers group should work. I can tell you exactly what to do, and explain why any other way of doing things is nonsense. Unfortunately, I can then name successful writers groups that violate every one of these rules. So I guess, on reflection, that wouldn't be useful.

Spherical Time: Is there any mistake that you've made along the way that you can help new writers avoid?

SKZB: Probably not. It is so different for everyone. As I said above, I had the problem of constantly revising before I'd finished the first draft, and I had to get past that, but there are others who can revise as they go and still make progress. I don't know. If we were sitting down a glass of Laguvullen in a nice, smoky bar, and talking, I could probably come up with a lot of bullshit, but the fact is, anyone who is determined to write well enough to publish will put in the work it takes to do that, and will make his own mistakes along the way, and correct them as he goes.

Spherical Time: What is your favorite word or phrase?

SKZB: This week, it's "I'm your huckleberry."

Spherical Time: Most writers love to read. Previously you've mentioned that you like Dumas, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Trotsky, and Zelazny, as well as long list of contemporary authors, of whom I only recognize a select few. Are there any authors that you've read recently that you enjoyed and would recommend?

SKZB: John M. Ford. Pamela Dean. Emma Bull. Will Shetterly. Jacqueline Carey. John D. MacDonald. Tim Powers. John Scalzi. Elizabeth Bear.

Spherical Time: Any final advice to aspiring writers?

SKZB: 1. Don't tell anyone who doesn't need to know that you're writing a novel. It is so much more fun to see the looks on your friends faces when you tell them you've sold a novel they didn't even know you were writing.

2. For the same reason, once you do sell your novel, when someone asks what you do for a living, do not say "writer." It is so much more fun, when you can finally quit the day job, to be able to say it for the first time. I still smile when I remember that.

3. Read outside the genre.

4. Concentrate on basics, such as grammar, and constructing a good sentence. If you can write a good sentence, you can do any form of writing.

5. Figure out what lies you need to tell yourself in order to produce your best work, then put lots of effort into believing them.

6. Forget "self-publishing." It's a scam. Writers only sign checks on the back.

7. Take a chance. Do something you don't think you're good enough to pull off.

8. Figure out what you're bad at, then write something that forces you to work on it (this is really only for after your first novel; for the first one, it's okay to write around your weaknesses).

9. Remember that getting to the end of your first novel is the most difficult thing you will ever do as a writer, whether it publishes or not. Once you've done that once, you can do it again. Get cocky about it.

10. Have fun. Write cool stuff.

11. Remember what Twain said: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug."

12. This...
Nov
05
Here is the interview with Tess Gerritsen:

Daniel
: What was the hardest issue for you, as a beginning author, to overcome - and how did you overcome it?


Tess: The hardest issue for me to overcome as a new writer? Just plain finishing the first book. I was new to the process and felt the need to perfect every sentence, every chapter, before I could move on. I've since learned that it's important to write all the way to the end and then to go back and revise and polish. It's the only way I'll ever finish a book -- by allowing that first draft to be imperfect.

Daniel: When you first published a novel, did you use a literary agent or submit directly to the publisher? At that time, how extensive were your writing credits?

Tess: When I sold my first book, I submitted it (CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT) simultaneously to both a literary agent as well as a publisher (Harlequin). They both said yes. But I would advise all new writers to
at least try to get a literary agent to represent them. It's the only way to get a really good contract.

Daniel
: All writers love to read. In your case, what is your favorite genre (to read), and are there any other authors you'd like to recommend?


Tess: My favorite genre to read? History as well as historical novels. While I do read a number of thrillers, I find that I crave books that are not the genre in which I write. Maybe it's because writers need to take a break from their own work! Among my favorite authors are Robert Harris and Philippa Gregory.

Daniel: Are there any writing methods or concepts you'd advise beginning writers to avoid?


Tess: I don't tell beginning writers that there's a right way or a wrong way to write, because we're all different. I'm comfortable with my process of not outlining and not plotting out ahead of time, and it works for me. But it may not work for anyone else. The only thing I would suggest is that they not try to perfect their early chapters before continuing with the story. Too often, beginning authors will polish and polish the first few chapters and never finish the book.

Daniel: One thing I personally struggle with is character development, which is key in writing a novel. Any words of advice in adding "depth" to a character? How can we make the characters "real"?

Tess: When developing characters, I've learned to just relax and let the characters take form all by themselves. I don't do character outlines. Often, I know only the barest details about their lives. Getting to know a character is like getting to know real people -- at first, all you know is their age and sex. But with further conversations and contacts, you learn more and more about them. Their politics, their moods, what their families are like. It's the same with characters. As you spend time with them and watch them react to elements of the story, you understand who they are. By the end of the book, you'll know them very well. So as a writer, I just let them develop on their own and discover who they are through what they say and how they interact with other characters.

Daniel: You tend to writer thriller-style novels. Is that your favorite genre to write? If not, what do you enjoy writing the most? (Could include poetry, short stories, other genres, etc.)

Tess: I tend to write thrillers because it's simply the way my mind thinks. I always seem to veer toward dark and twisted plots. I always think: "What's the worst that can happen?" Maybe it's because I spent my childhood reading Nancy Drew and other mysteries. Even when I was writing romance novels (my first 9 books) I always had a mystery central to the plot.

Daniel: When writing the first draft of a novel, is there any method you follow strictly?


Tess: When writing my first drafts, I have no rules and no particular methods except to keep moving forward. I instinctively introduce conflict in every chapter. It's not something I consciously insert into the story -- I just find that I do it without even thinking. Conflict is important for pacing and drama, and I find that if characters don't get along, or are odds with each other, the story is a lot more interesting. I don't outline ahead of time, so I don't always know what's ahead for my characters. It keeps the story surprising for me.

Daniel: Where do you find your inspiration for writing? In other words, what motivates you?


Tess: Where do I find my inspiration? Well, I write because I feel compelled to. And because my deadlines always loom over my head! I'm under contract to write a book a year, so that's a very good motivator.
But even if I wasn't tied to a book contract, I'd still write simply because I want to see how the story turns out. I love the challenge of spinning a story out of nothing but my own imagination. As for where I
find my inspiration for stories -- I get them everywhere, from news reports to conversations to bad movies. There are story ideas everywhere. You just have to learn to recognize which ideas will turn into a great book, and which ideas are not all that interesting.

Daniel: Lastly, if there were only one idea or concept you could teach a struggling, unpublished author, what would it be?


Tess: What's the one concept I'd teach a new writer? Follow your emotions. Pay attention to what makes you angry, scared, and horrified. Emotions are at the heart of your story. When I'm fishing around for a new idea for a book, I always choose the idea that gives me an emotional punch. For instance, VANISH was based on a news story about a young woman who was declared dead and later woke up in the morgue. That horrified me -- which is exactly why I chose it as the basis for my VANISH plot.

Daniel: Any other comments?

[FONT=&quot]
Tess: My last comment: The longer I've been in the storytelling business, the more convinced I am that storytellers are born, not made. Some people just know instinctively in which direction to take a plot, and they'll almost always veer down the path that offers the most conflict, the most drama. That's hard to teach to writing students. I don't know how to teach a sense of drama -- it's something you have to know all by yourself.



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