Episode 56 with Fran Wilde

I have Fran Wilde on the show talking world building, switching narrative voice, and her amazing Bone Universe!
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Her novels and short stories have been nominated for two Nebula awards and a Hugo, and include her Andre Norton- and Compton-Crook-winning debut novel, Updraft (Tor 2015), its sequels, Cloudbound (2016) and Horizon (2017), and the novelette “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” (Tor.com Publishing 2016). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Nature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She holds an MFA in poetry, an MA in information design and information architecture, and writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, io9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at franwilde.net.
You can also find the episode on Stitcher, iTunes, and Google Play!
Fran’s words are beautiful. I can’t recommend these books enough!!!
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back and even better!

51promoHey guys!
Too Many Words returns with the wonderfully prolific and friend of the show, Oli Jacobs! He is the author of several horror and science fiction novels. Oli gets into his latest horror novel Deep Down There. We talk the brilliance of H.P. Lovecraft, leaning into voice, the power of walking away, and how every writer needs a dog. I had a wonderful time chatting with him and I  hope you enjoy listening.
Before Oli comes on, I get into what I’ve been up to and the show’s switch to Patreon.

Download. Share. Subscribe.
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You can now support the show on Patreon! https://goo.gl/WQYhgt

 

Mind and body, it’s complicated

 
I kept sitting down to write this essay I promised for a collection. The theme of the piece needs to boil down to one thing: my relationship with my body and mind.
Easy, right?
*chokes*
When I took the assignment I was excited to dive in, to be honest, and maybe even help someone. What do we do with our minds and bodies while we have them? What is done to them? How do we grow? People often struggle with this—I sure as hell do. I mean it’s kinda the whole life deal, isn’t it?
When it came to sitting my butt in the seat and writing, as it often does, collecting my thoughts onto paper was harder than I expected. I kept choking out a line then grimacing at it. We all know this isn’t how to get anything accomplished. But after a few aggressive dance-offs, I grabbed my collar and said, “Time to make it happen.”
And, I did it. I wrote the allotted amount of words, took a walk, did some yoga, and with a smoothie in hand, I reread it.
Bleh.
My first impression was, “Am I that scattered?”
I didn’t like how I jumped from thing to thing. It left me feeling like I didn’t know myself at all, or that I haven’t made any peace with all my hang-ups.
I scowled at the lines shifting from my eating disorder to my ever complicated relationship with my mother.
Later on I was vacuuming, lamenting about how unfocused the piece was and it hit me. It wasn’t unfocused, it was complicated.
Body’s have a past, present, and future and the mind is as mysterious as the deepest oceans. My connection it isn’t singular, it’s layers and layers of trial and error and turning points.
Now, I’m editing it with nicer things to say and drawing the lines that make the whole piece, that make me. It’s hard for me to listen to myself. My upbringing and anxiety disorder have ingrained distrust. As I work on this as an adult so I don’t implode with unnecessary amounts of stress I find more slivers of peace and more understanding in the actual craft itself, both in drafting and revisions. It’s the game of seeing what isn’t there, of reading between the lines. Of, feeling purpose behind action.
 
Maybe, don’t be so quick to dismiss. Listen. Learn. And, feel.

Humbled by Stories and Pie

Fall is approaching. The kids are back in school. My house is quiet. Cinnamon is suddenly more appealing. Our planet seems to be crumbling down around us. I spent the summer writing scenes that never needed to exist for the story I was telling because I thought I was writing another one. I discovered the amazing world of paleo-style cooking in a nobel attempt to be healthier and have a hobby outside of words.  I’m currently sitting at my desk ready to crank out some smaller pieces in hopes of earning modest piles of cash. It’s been too long since the last blog post, nerves were starting to climb my legs, so I popped over here to write this. The moment my fingers hit the keys my mind started jumping all over like a confused frog with no tongue.
I’ve learned so much in the last eight or so months. I did it with crash-course grace, and my head is still spinning on its side. I made so many mistakes with my latest project—the one that I’ve been obsessing over and nothing else. (Part of the problem, btw.) I know what you are thinking. “It’s all part of it.” “Probably not as bad as you think.” “That’s what editing is for.”
No, really. I broke it. For now. I wasn’t listening to the character’s true voice and allowed my goals to distract me. The first moment I started the project till right before I finally listened to myself, was a continuous and reactionary series of events. I walked away for its own good. This was a hard thing to swallow. Really hard. Making mistakes is sometimes the best way to learn. My husband always says to the kids, “If you aren’t making mistakes you aren’t growing.” So, I guess I grew up a lot over the last year.
As a parent I watch my kids slip in and out of these developmental phases. There is nothing like children to remind you of how temporary life is. Oh so humbling. I so seldom pay attention to my cycles of learning and moods. If you are only a little familiar with me, you know my love for Alice in Wonderland. The story is so much more than children’s fantasy. It’s a story about growing up and how our environment messes with us as we go. We have choices, and they have consequences. It’s a metaphor for life, for writing a story, and periods of time that have more of an impact than others. Lost innocence is the place we all visit at some point. Wonderland can symbolize many things, but sometimes I think of it as a representation of a phase. The thing about life? ‘Our now’ feels forever. For me, it’s those milestone birthdays or the realization of how old Moe the cat is that really shows me all that’s changed. This summer that just soared by was on the other side of a door in a hole. I’ve been chasing this project for the last eight months (or more) that didn’t want to be chased. There is a story there, one I have to tell, but my mind is on other projects that are ready for me now. Sometimes a story has to wait. It hurts, and it always sucks. I trust that my path with lead back to it.
As disappointed as I am that my WIP and I need some time apart, I am equally excited about all the short fiction I have in the works, essays of thoughts, working with Rebecca Clark on The Shadow Bearers again, and another wave of Too Many Words Episodes. (More info on all that soon.) The words will find me, as they will find you.
I wrap this up with:
Keep the critic in your pocket, listen to your gut, and have fun tormenting your characters that all want something.

characters and their insides

Character, something we can have and what we are as individuals. Some more than others. The quirky, witty sidekick softens the hard front-runner. The insecure and flawed villain makes us do more than simply hate them. The smiling stranger somehow soothes the rush of grocery store anger. Creating a character that thinks and feels and bleeds and grows, is an exercise in sleepless obsession.

And so the frenetic spiral of passion and creating begins. The hero. The villain. The conflict. The quest. These early stages of story building are some of my most favorite aspects of the whole deal and the first for me to become familiar with on my writing journey. The spark of a personality, the lines of the face. Knowing what ideas to take further isn’t always clear, and if it becomes so, it is usually after sitting down and writing it at least once. Every word written is a lot like a pebble tossed into a pond. Ripples form, they glide into others and create something brand new. Words help find ideas. Anything can slip out if you just write.

This is hard for me. My brain likes to collect every possibility and burden and task item and try to think about it all it once. My chest tightens, and I am far from a creative place. I’m learning to get into a rhythm and when to listen to the change needed. Writing and living life as a writer is in itself a living organization. Something that changes and morphs and grows. Knowing this and accepting, helps everything.

Writing full-time isn’t how I imagined when I was a kid and proclaimed to be a great author someday. Some moments are dull and frustrating; some even feel pointless.

Scene:

Dogs huddle near my side asking for their walk. Laundry piles build walls, locking us into my home office. My fingers idle above the keys. Notebooks are open. Ideas aren’t coming, and I question all my life decisions up to that point.

A similar scene:

A great, long walk with the dogs. Laundry all folded and where it belongs. Ideas are flowing, slow and steady. I’m having fun.

The main difference between the two here is perspective. Perspective is powerful. It alters the story, the taste, the sheen.

Is anyone going to figure out what’s wrong with a character arc if all they are doing is telling themselves that they can’t? (Yes, I’m talking about myself last week.)

The answer is no.

I made a lot of missteps on this draft, and once they are pointed out, they scream. It took a minute for me to digest the issues, find them, and now I’m piecing together how to fix it. Word by word, I’m mending and tightening and all the good stuff.

There is no reason why this shouldn’t be fun. The fine-tuning of fantasy world can be like ripping your hair out with hot tweezers, or it can be like riding bareback on a unicorn through a forest of talking trees. Fun and wonder can be found everywhere. That’s why I love reading and writing.

I get caught up in cycles where I fret and worry too much about the outcome and clean floors and forget how to enjoy. I think focusing on the good is something we can all do more. Not just writers or artists, but people, us humans. Having our backs isn’t us fooling ourselves.

There is so much upheaval and reaction. Slowing down and take a whiff of our surroundings helps. I’m talking to myself and to you and possibly to the angry dude with the ignorant sign by the baseball stadium. Self-awareness is an important tool. We should all use it.

Perhaps I went off the path a bit, but I don’t think so. The character’s path isn’t a clear, straight shot. Remember that as a writer and as a human. I have to. Complexity and twists out of our control. Emotions and logic. These are natural occurrences and ones that generate conflict. A sum up of that I am saying?

Have fun writing characters and the world that they live in—both in the fictional world and the real one.

blindfolded in a sea of notebooks

It’s been weird by me. To say I’m in a mood, or a weird phase sums it up mostly. Nothing really terrible is happening. My life is good. I’m lucky. I’ve been in a writing funk, that’s all.  Actually, a lot of good things are in the works. Maybe it’s waiting. I’m not sure. Being humbled is part of the writing gig. I’ve been humbled, but I’m on the trail while being humbled. The not thinking of something really gets under my skin.

Ideas are everything.

It has been eight days without a cigarette, and I’m knee-deep in revisions. Something I have trouble with is the “not writing’ part of the process. Dumping random thoughts into journals helps to discover clues and details. Not knowing how to fix issues gnaws at my feet. Slowly but surely I’m finding answers.

I’ve realized I’ve been reacting lately—the past year or two really. It’s almost the end of my youngest’s first-grade year. When he started kindergarten, I started writing full time without having a clue as to what to expect even though I thought I did. It is very different than part-time writing. Writing as the main gig is hard. I love it. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else if I’m being honest. Sure, there are moments where I imagine opening a bakery or being a dog trainer. But I always come to my words and my goals in the literary world. It’s a slow game, one that requires thick skin, obsession, and passion. Being stubborn helps too.

The same month we entered that different phase in our family, both kids in school and my full-time writing, my best friend died, and I plummeted myself into an emotional YA contemporary until I was done which happened 95,000 words or so later. This still sits in a drawer. Fantasy is more my bag, and that was a pile of mess and emotions and processing thoughts, that maybe one day I’ll dig up. Then my small publisher closed and my published book and my schedule to release one disappeared like vapor for a hot second. I’ve been hacking away since then, making minor successes and learning as I stumble and make mistakes. I am learning a whole heck of a lot and good news for me I’m stubborn as hell. I couldn’t do this without it. At some point I stopped bouncing from project to project and became obsessed with world building and this big huge concept. That is where I still am. I can’t blink my eyes and be onto the next step. This is where I am. Listening, hunting, finding, and fixing.

So that’s a long way of saying my current status is eight days without smokes and wandering the jungle path of revisions, tracking and solving problem by problem while I do my best to have fun with it all and remember I’m lucky. It’s too easy to get caught up in the harsher notes. Listening to the softer sound is a neater rhythm. I’m learning to deal with things as they arise, so they don’t build panic like wet sneakers grow mold in the back of my coat closet.

Today was one of my most productive writing days in over a month. I got a lot figured out and down on paper. Looking at all angles is hard but necessary.
Some days are chipping away at an iceberg with a fork, and others are like setting your fingers of fire, but instead of flame, it’s words.
Can’t have one without the other.

heroes and holes to different realms

I think about Alice in Wonderland a lot. Leather bound and aged. Aside from the story being one of the first I can point to for having opened the literary realms to me, the meaning of the story and feeling it gives me adds to my daily thoughts. Seeds and caterpillars. Dreams and age. Creatures and villains.

The hero’s story is one of change and purpose. An often grabbed trope in this arc is the loss of innocence. It is something we all go through. The journey through fallen dreams and life-hardened perspectives aren’t possible without it.

The manuscript that is being edited right now was a trip I enjoyed so much I decided it had to be a series. A world I want to stay in. The project out of my hands leaves a sour hole in my chest. Something I need to fill. I’m someone that has to have something to obsess over—ideas to hobble together. Drafting the second while the first one fed through the grinder didn’t seem like something I could do at the moment. Juggling fire on a tight rope blindfolded. At least one eye. But like ideas and gardens and stewing plots, I had projects and characters on the back burner. I pumped out three short stories. These were swirling around for a good while. They came right out. Cleaned up nicely and off they went.

“Okay,” I told myself. “It’s time to dive into the manuscript concept burning a whole in your back pocket.”

Because it has been trying to come out for years in different ways. I found the story and what the characters were doing. I sat down.

Nothing.

Some words.

Five different tries.

Feeling nothing. Oh wait, panic, that’s right.

I don’t know how you guys are with ideas. But, they feel like my air. When I can’t grab one I ask myself, “Was that it? Is that all I have? Am I tapped out?”

One thing that I am learning right now—something I should have probably known already but didn’t look at it as it stood in the corner pointing at me—writing sometimes means not writing.

Sometimes wandering and living and walking nowhere is how you write, how I write. Getting lost to find things. It’s hard for me not to work. I have yet to reach my career goals so most of the time it feels impossible to justify not working. But working means different things. I’ve been lucky the last nine months. I’ve been flush with ideas and energy to pump it out.
I spent four days not writing, it felt like torture, but now I have the format and voice I was looking for.
I’ve heard so many writers say, “The path to every book is different,” I can’t even count. Like so many sayings that are used too often, they lose their weight, but they exist for good reason. Every path is different. Each story has a rhythm, their own beat, and heart and blood.
So, yes, my mind is in a better spot right now. I’m getting into the groove with this book, but I’m not diving so deep in just yet. Edits for my other project will be dropping in any day. Then these ideas will wiggle and work stuff out in the background while I go through the edits.
Part of me is excited to get them back and eager to get my fingers in there and get dirty. But, I’m also nervous—before-you-get-on-a-really-loopy-rollercoaster nervous. I’m not sure what to expect. I have an idea, maybe. Guesses. The unknown is always intriguing to ponder.
The dance between liking and loathing lack of control.
I think that wraps this up, for now, I’ve gone on long enough. I’d like to sink my teeth into some drafting this strange, scary, and heartbreaking new project before my stomach and brain demands lunch.